The Plastic Pot Dilemma



These are just some of the plastic pots I reluctantly acquired in April in my yearly fit of plant-buying.  I gathered them here to wash them before looking for the least bad way to deal with them, feeling heartsick that plants come with plastic. Is there really no better way to package them?

But assuming for now that we’re stuck with them, what to do with the damn things? Fortunately, they’re accepted by my town’s recycling program, but apparently that’s unusual.  NC State acknowledges that most recycling programs in the state don’t pick up this type of plastic and recommends taking them to the nearest Lowes or a local independent garden center that may recycle them, or reusing them at home.

Indeed Lowes does have an outstanding recycling program, now in all 1,700 of its stores:

We provide a cart for stores and customers to return plastic plant trays, pots and tags, regardless of condition. No matter where consumers purchase the plant, they are encouraged to return the materials to a Lowe’s Garden Center to be recycled.  Once the pots and trays are returned to the store, they are picked up by local vendors and sorted. The reusable material is sterilized and reintroduced to the production cycle. Serviceable trays are recovered and reused in the growing, shipping and sale of live plants. Material not deemed reusable is crushed, banded and sent for recycling.

So good for them.  I’d always rather buy from local stores, but learned that my favorite indie garden center stopped recycling pots after a trial period because the cost was prohibitive.


Moving on to re-use at home, the final recommendation from NC State, This Old House offers 10 ways to reuse them but to me, they’re all a stretch.  And none of the “Garden Recycle” ideas on Pinterest offered much help.


But further Googling (“recycle plastic pots”) did lead me to a laudable recycling program at the Missouri Botanic Garden, which brags about it as the best in the nation.  It directs readers to where they can buy timbers made out of recycled plastic pots, and I just love that it motivates people to visit the garden more often.

Finally, I discovered that Gayla Trail at You Grow Girl uses plastic pots for seed-starting.

So readers, what are YOU doing with the damn things?


  1. I use them for seed starting, and I also use them to give away my plants that I’ve divided. This year I gave away so many divided perennials that I almost ran out of plastic pots! I have no idea what I’m going to do next year!

  2. Curbside recycling in Florida has become so well accepted that our Covanta Waste-to-Energy plants that used to have no problem getting plenty of high temperature yield plastic(and paper) in the trash are in financial trouble. They are said to be negotiating with the counties to buy the WTE plants since recycling has cut their volume by 25% already. Who knew so many people would recycle so quickly? The younger generation will be even better. I have mowed about 1/4 mile stretch along a busy street for the last 25 years. Since curbside recycling began I have seen much less trash I have to pickup. Coincidence? Far fewer cigarette packs too.

  3. I use them to take up space in giant patio pots, keep some around in all sizes for seed starting and plant sharing, use them as scoops for compost and manure. Our recycling center takes most kinds, and a local nursery will take the rest.

  4. I hoard them…at least it feels that way. But seriously, I know what I’ll be taking to Lowes sometime soon.

  5. I keep them in my shed and use them as black widow breeding grounds. And then when I see that they are serving their purpose I freak out, strap on my gloves, and haul them to the recycling bin.

  6. I give them to my local Community college ornamental hort. department. Home depot also will accept them for recycling.

  7. We have a local artist who decorates and then fills them with her brothers nursery annuals for resale. A Garden club takes empty pots for their yearly sale. I use the big ones to put in my big planters so I don’t have to fill the whole planter with dirt.

  8. I donate them to The Native Plant Salvage Project. They use them to pot up plants dug from sites that are going to be developed. They especially need 2 gallon and up sizes. The plants are used in restoration projects, rain gardens and home gardens.

  9. Since I manage the seedling greenhouse at my community garden, I wash & reuse 3 particular sizes that fit in square grower flats. When we first started up, I had to dumpster dive for them, now I have most of the members putting them in a bin outside the greenhouse.

  10. a. Drill a hole near the top, then screw the pot to any wood surface, post/shed/house/tree etc. for a plant pot – annuals/herbs.

    b. Cut the top off of a pot, about an inch down, place the top in your garden, and neatly plant in it. Tomatoes in particular are great, but so are perennials and biennials the latter easily forgotton about in the off year. Can even put the tag in the slot in top for identification. Use the cut off bottom, to start seeds in, or hold excess started plants.

  11. I offer the empty pots on for free, and have never had a problem finding somebody who wanted to come pick them up.

  12. Got really lucky recently. A gal who donates seedlings and plants to the local annual Native Plant Society took them all!

    The smaller ones go to recycling, but the larger ones I use when I divide plants and give them away.

  13. I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a county with a large and thriving Amish population. Many Amish gardeners divide their own perennials and sell them along the roadsb where they live, and these gardeners welcome used pots. So I have ready recipients for my pots, knowing that they are being re-used at least once before being recycled or discarded.

  14. Unlike many of those above, I had no way to recycle. Thank you for publicizing the Lowe’s program! That will now be my go-to.

  15. I reuse them for seed starting and potting up transplants and giving plants away, until they start to fall apart. Then they go into the recycle bin, as my city accepts them.

  16. This is great! In Austin, we’re lucky that many nurseries LOVE to get them back, so I wash and return for their propagation. And indeed, we’re also lucky that our curbside recycling takes them, too. We also have “Bulky Trash” pickup days twice a year to leave things on our curbs. Whatever I leave out there gets picked up by voyagers through the neighborhood really fast. This has become a BIG deal. People watch for this and scavenge all kinds of good things.

    And, I do save some to divide plants to share with fellow gardeners, especially new ones.

    I’m with you, though, on doing “craft” things for them. Applaud it; no time!

  17. We just reuse them as long as possible, then toss ’em. My understanding is that it consumes more energy to recycle a pot than it does to throw it in a landfill. Frustrating, because there’s really no winning.

  18. I run out of them every year. Fill them up with all those volunteers and extras from the expanding clumps. I give them away, people are happy to have them and it spreads natives into more gardens!

  19. 1. start seedlings in them
    2. scoop compost, manure, etc.
    3. turn upside down and cover tender plants when frost hits
    4. cover plants in a bed, dump and spread mulch, then remove the pot-covers

  20. I realize that I live near Portland, OR, so what I am about to say could have something to do with our recycling sensibility in the Rose City. Beyond Lowes, many nurseries accept returned plastic pots, too. Ask your favorite nursery if they do and if they have any rules that accompany the return (like rinsing them out, only certain sizes, only their own pots, etc.)

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