My Irish Road Trip & Thoughts on Plastic

I’ve just returned from a mini road trip via Scotland, to Northern Ireland. I’d longed to see The Giants Causeway and surrounding coastline for years. This wasn’t really a trip to visit gardens, more about taking in windswept landscapes and striking seascapes, interspersed with bookshops and cosy pubs.

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We drove through the Peak District, The Lakes, and then Galway Forest Park stopping in Wigtown Scotlands book town. Next we crossed the Irish sea to follow the Causeway Coastal Route. Coincidentally, I was reading Mary Reynolds, Garden Awakening. Mary is Irish, a fellow garden designer, permaculturist who writes about the land having its own personality, when we learn to observe and increasingly work with it, how we can be custodians, rather than rulers in our gardens.

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On my journey I marvelled at the scale of the landscapes, noting where and how it had been shaped by man, either with forestry, farming or building. I saw where the sheep pastures stopped and the moorland started, lines drawn in hedges or stone walls. I noticed how the presence of the roads we drove on disrupted the ground water drainage routes.

We’re lucky in Britain to have such a wide range of landscapes, so many micro climates, varied eco systems and weather; Sandy beaches, rocky shoreline with thrashing waves, clifftops, scalloped bays, the mono culture of forestry plantations, babbling streams, mud flats and estuaries, glens, sensual rolling green hills, massive brown mountains. This road trip had it all.

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I got my much needed ‘sea fix’, the cost of living in landlocked Derbyshire. As a holidaying child I competed with my sister to be the first to see the sea when we drove to the coast, and now my children do the same. The clear green blue sea around Carrick a Rede (above) was especially uplifting and I was relieved not to see much litter or plastic floating anywhere along this tourist attraction coastline, but on our return journey we stopped near Port William where there was plenty of plastic waste on the beach.

We spent our sunset walk picking up plastic – bottles, lids, toothbrushes, toys and straws, some of it was broken and unidentifiable. It was food for thought. This coincided with another big push in the media about the single use plastic issue and ocean pollution. They say every bit of plastic that was ever made still exists – somewhere. The irony of gardeners, nature lovers, producing a material which is not digestible by the earth makes me ponder the plastic plant pot issue which plagues the industry.

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The horticulture industry was revolutionised by the plastic pot. Strong lightweight pots meant that plants could be bought and sold at anytime of the year, rather than during the dormant season when traditionally plants could be bought bare rooted locally.  Growers could grow plants anywhere and transport them easily, and the industry has built up around this.

Our pots are, in the majority, ‘single use’ – used once then discarded; amongst other reasons to avoid spreading pests and diseases (especially as such a lot of plants are imported). The system is a linear one, pots are not designed or standardised to allow for collection, cleaning and re distribution. Black plastic is especially challenging to recycle so while some pots get sent for recycling and some passed around and reused, the vast majority end up in land fill.

I grow a small amount of the plants I supply – which allows me to reuse old plastic pots. I also grow a few plants in the ground for transplanting in spring or autumn in the old school way. These often do so much better than the pot grown ones.

There are alternatives to plastic; coir, bamboo, cow manure, rice hulls and wood fibres are also used to make plant pots, and new products are continually being launched and marketed – Modiform, a plastic pot and tray manufacturer, who make pots from recycled plastic, also announced recently, a new 100% recycled paper based system of pots and trays.

I feel that we need to take time to build up our local growers again, where pots potentially need be less robust and alternative materials can be used. Also, where the scale allows for old plastic pots to be reused.

What can you do to help?

  • Use biodegradable pots, seed trays – either bought or homemade, for growing seeds and cuttings. Wooden seed trays are lovely to use and loo roll inners & paper pots are also great.
  • Consider where your plants come from. Try to support local growers, & smaller nurseries.
  • Buy bare rooted plants in winter and avoid the pot all together. Ask for no plastic packaging.
  • Ask at the till in nurseries & garden centres about pot recycling schemes, and suggest they start one. The industry will have to respond customers make enough noise.
  • Reuse the pots you have, post surplus on freecycle – or see if any local schools, allotments etc can make use of them.

More information on the effects of plastic pollution see this article and on reducing your waste the zero waster site has great tips.

I’m back to work after the break now, busy tree planting, pruning roses and wisteria, also cutting back my favourite grass Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’, wondering about what this year has in store.

 

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