Those who are trying to live a more ethical and sustainable way of life understand that one of the key issues is the waste we generate. Moving towards a zero waste lifestyle should be a goal for all green polytunnel gardeners. In this article, we will explore the many different ways in which you can reduce the amount of waste you generate, by making better purchasing decisions, reducing the amount you buy, reusing household waste in your gardening efforts, and recycling as much as possible at the end of its useful life.
The Zero Waste Guide to Garden Tools & Equipment
One of the major problems when it comes to trying to live a zero waste lifestyle is that many of the items we need come packaged, and such packaging is often not recyclable. One of the best ways to move in the right direction is to reduce the number of items that we buy in the first place.
Reducing Tool Purchases
First off, it is important to think carefully about which tools you really need, and which will truly make your life easier. There are a huge array of different tools on the market, but all you really need is a handful of items. Implementing an organic, no dig approach may mean that you feel the need for fewer tools, as you will not need to dig, turn or plough a plot as in the common approach.
Reusing – Choosing Second Hand Tools
Gardeners will, or course, require certain tools and containers in order to set up their gardens. But that does not mean that they have to buy new. Many tools and containers can be obtained second hand – sometimes even for free.
By using second hand tools, we can reduce the carbon cost of making new tools in the first place. Second hand tools can often be sourced from friends or family, neighbours, or others in our communities. They can also be sourced online from auction sites or sites like Freecycle or Freegle.
Selecting New Tools
When it comes to choosing tools, selecting tools with wooden rather than plastic handles can help, as wood will rot down, while plastic can remain to pollute our natural environments, often ending up in landfill.
Another benefit of finding and using traditional wooden handled tools is that these will be easier to repair in future. If wooden handles break, these are relatively easy to replace – you may even be able to do so using wood from your garden.
Learning some basic DIY skills and learning how to maintain and repair your tools will help you to prolong their useful lives and prevent them from ending up as waste.
Recycling Old Tools
Living a zero waste lifestyle is also about considering what will happen to the items we own when they reach the end of their useful lives. Many tools will eventually break. But wooden handles will simply rot down over time, and will not pose a waste problem. Metal tools will last a long time if cared for properly, but metal components can often be recycled at the end of their lives – unlike many plastics and composite materials. You may even be able to replace wooden handles and rejoin metal pieces to new handles.
Even when this is not possible, metal components may be able to have a second life in your garden – for example, the head of a spade could become a bed marker, or be used as a mini shelf to support plants in a vertical garden.
The Zero Waste Guide to Containers
One major area of concern when it comes to waste are the large number of plastic plant pots and containers that are used (and thrown away) each year. The good news for green gardeners is that is it fairly easy to create and maintain a container garden without contributing to the global waste problem.
Reducing Plastic Use
Plastic is an insidious problem – one of the biggest when it comes to waste. One of the main problems for gardeners trying to avoid owning plastic containers is that many of the new plants we purchase come in plastic pots. It is a good idea to try to reduce plastic use by not buying any new plastic containers.
Those plastic pots that you already own, you should try to reuse for as long as possible, and do your best to prevent them from ending up in landfill, or polluting the environment.
We do not need to buy plastic pots, trays or other items to grow seeds and plants. Growing directly in the ground or in raised beds made from reclaimed materials rather than in pots is, of course, one way to reduce the need for containers. However, you can still have a container garden while reducing plastic use and preventing plastic waste. You could consider, for example:
Reusing Food Packaging
Reusing packaging in the garden is one great way to reduce the number of new containers we have to buy, and can also help you reduce the packaging that must be thrown away. It is practically impossible to avoid all packaging, but by reusing packaging, we can help reduce global waste problems.
Reusing Other Household Items
Those who have been successful in eliminating (or significantly reducing) food packaging from their homes can still find ways to re-use old items as containers. For example, old footwear, kitchen items and even old furniture can all be re-purposed for use as containers for plants. Other items that might otherwise have been sent to landfill can often find a place in your garden as raised beds, containers or plant ‘pots’ for your garden.
Using Biodegradable Plant Pots
When planting seeds, those looking to move towards a zero waste lifestyle can choose to eschew plastic pots or trays, and instead use biodegradable plant pots, such as those made from coir or cardboard. Zero waste gardeners can also use old toilet roll tubes or cardboard boxes, make their own pots with papier maché, or even opt for a soil block maker and do away with the need for seed trays or starter pots altogether.
The Zero Waste Guide to Seeds & Plants
One of the best ways to avoid bringing new plastic pots into your home is to move towards growing your own plants from seed, or propagating your own plants, and away from buying plug plants or potted plants. Where you do need to buy plants, try to select bare root options that come without plastic pots, or source plants from friends, family, neighbours, or others in your community.
When it comes to seeds, collecting your own is a fantastic first step. Collecting seeds from the plants that you grow to replant the following season will obviously reduce the number of new seeds that you have to buy.
Even those new to gardening may be able to collect seeds from the gardens of family, friends or neighbours. Often, you can source a wide range of seeds for free.
The same is true of plants, which can be propagated. Learning how to take cuttings or propagate plants by division can give you access to a wide range of plants without the need to go out and buy new ones.
Sourcing Zero Waste Seeds
Of course, you may still sometimes have to, or wish to, buy seeds. When you do, it is a good idea to seek out suppliers who will deliver seeds in paper packaging rather than in plastic. Paper packets can be popped on the compost heap, while plastic ones cannot always be recycled. There are a number of companies offering plastic free seeds online, and paper seed packets can also often be found in a range of garden centres.
Sourcing Plants Without Plastic Pots or Packaging
If you do need or want to go out and buy new plants, it can be a challenge to find options that do not come in plastic pots. However, some plant nurseries and garden centres are now switching to biodegradable plugs and pots. It is worthwhile trying to find somewhere that has made this change if you can. If you cannot, why not have a word with your local nursery or garden centre to suggest that they too make the effort to go ‘zero waste’?
The Zero Waste Guide to Food & Organic Waste
Food waste is one of the major problems in today’s society. Fortunately, as a gardener, you can do your part to combat this problem. Making use of food waste, and other organic waste from your garden, is a key part of zero waste gardening.
One of the first steps in moving towards a zero waste lifestyle is acknowledging that all too often, we buy more than we actually need. This is more true of food, perhaps, than of anything else. Trying to reduce the amount of food you buy is a sustainable choice. Growing as much of your own food as possible is a good place to start. Beyond this, try to think about what you really need, and make lists to make sure that you don’t impulse buy from the shops.
Further to this, you can reduce the amount of food you waste by:
- Freezing excess fresh produce from your polytunnel.
- Dehydrating fruits, vegetables or herbs to make them last longer in store.
- Making preserves such as jams, jellies, chutneys and pickles.
- Learning the rudiments of canning and preserving produce in this way.
- Using scraps such as celery or spring onion bases or carrot tops to grow more food.
Of course, there will always be scraps and peelings from our vegetables and fruits that cannot be eaten or made use of in some way in our kitchens. But even these scraps should not go to waste. Those in pursuit of a zero waste lifestyle can compost all these food scraps, along with other organic waste from their gardens. Learning how to compost is a key skill when you are aiming for zero waste. You will find plenty of resources on composting, mulching and other options for using organic waste in your polytunnel garden around this site.
Are you moving towards a zero waste lifestyle? Let us know how you are getting on in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.