You may have noticed in your local garden centre that there’s a new look to the plants section. Plant pots are changing colour! What’s it all about?
The build-up of plastics in our environment has certainly been in the spotlight over the last few years. Since Sir David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ showed us the tide of plastic in our oceans, more people than ever are aware of the issue, and crucially, they’re trying to do something about it. From re-using a carrier bag to carrying a water bottle, people are trying, in small ways, to reduce the impact of disposable plastic on our beautiful planet.
However, years after the introduction of kerbside recycling schemes by councils across the country, there are still many plastics in use which can’t be recycled.
Generally speaking, gardeners tend to be some of the people most aware of the environment. After all, we see nature up close and personal every time we go outside to get mud under our fingernails. Doesn’t it seem wrong, then, that the black plant pots which hold our treasured purchases can’t easily be recycled?
A new approach
The garden industry thought so, and last year a panel of growers got together to look at some alternatives to the familiar black pot.
The problem with the conventional black plant pot is just that – it’s black. The polypropylene (PP) it’s made from contains a carbon-black pigment. In theory, all PP is recyclable, but the addition of this black colouration means that the plastic absorbs light. As a result, the infra-red sensors used at recycling facilities to recognise and sort recycling are unable to ‘see’ it - and it’s not recycled.
Another factor is that the market value of dark PP is low. PP that’s dark in colour can only be turned into more of the same thing, rather than a range of colours, so it’s less in demand. This means that recyclers prefer not to process it, and so there are fewer options for local authorities when it comes to finding a supplier of recycling services.
Because of these difficulties in recycling black pots, some councils in the UK have banned plant pots from kerbside collections.
In contrast, the new taupe pots, while still made of PP, are 100% recyclable in kerbside collections. What’s more, they contain as high a percentage of recycled PP as possible, frequently from a UK source, with little or no virgin material added.
So they really are a much better option.
Taupe is the new black
Why has the colour taupe been chosen for the new recyclable pots? Well, aside from the primary technical benefit that it’s free from the problematic carbon-black pigment, it’s an appealing neutral shade. The name taupe, we’ve learned, comes from the French for mole, referring to ‘moleskin’, and it’s regarded as a natural, organic colour to make an ideal foil to the verdant colour contained within – perfect for use in the garden centre. Greens appear more vivid, yellows more vibrant and blues will simply sing!
One element about this change that we, as part of the wider garden industry, especially like is that it’s a real industry-wide collaboration. The issue was raised and discussed at a forum of the HTA (Horticultural Trades Association) and no single manufacturer or grower has any exclusive right over the taupe pot. It is an industry-wide response to an issue facing all of us.
A first tranche of ten UK growers agreed to replace black pots with recyclable taupe ones, and you may have seen these taupe pots already. Our customer Hillier was the first to actually put the taupe pots into use at its nurseries, so if you’re a regular at Hillier garden centres, you will have seen them for some months already. Hillier has already potted over 1,000,000 plants into taupe pots on its Hampshire nurseries. Across the industry, the aim is to complete the switch from black to taupe within two years – depending, of course, on growing cycles.
So now it’s a case of spreading the good news. We need to tell gardeners, waste facilities and local authorities about the recyclable taupe pot, and get councils to look again at any blanket bans on plant pots in kerbside collections. The HTA is working with recycling information charity RECOUP (RECycling of Used Plastics) to get the message out there, but if you have any contacts, please do feel free to spread the word.
It’s a small change, but one which makes a big difference to the volume of non-recyclable waste plastic in our gardens – and that has to be a good thing!
With thanks to our friends at Hillier Garden Centres for their assistance with this article. Taupe pot photos copyright Hillier Garden Centres.