Are you worried that you're ruining your organic garden with plastic supplies and tools? We hear this concern a lot. And you’re right: it wouldn’t make sense to use toxic plastic and then expect to end up with healthy food.
At first glance it seems pretty simple – just use the same rules as you would in choosing safer plastic food containers, right? Turns out that the trick is determining what seedling trays, flower pots and garden hoses are actually made from. And that’s not so straightforward.
The Dirt on Planters
Repurposing food containers for gardening is pretty straightforward since most are labeled with recycling codes: stick with plastic numbers 2, 4, and 5.
As for buying new containers, there are quite a few possibilities out there. Since not all of them are labeled, we've done the research for you and put together a quick reference list of typically non-toxic choices:
- 5 gallon buckets are almost always made from #5 (PP) plastic.
- 1 gallon pots are usually made from #2 (HDPE) plastic.
- Heavy duty, classic plastic flower pots are almost always made from #5 (PP) plastic too.
- Lightweight flower pots are usually made from #2 (HDPE) or #5 (PP) plastic.
- Smart Pots are made of a flexible polypropylene fabric.
- Bioplastic flower pots by Rush Creeks are made of rice husk and bamboo.
As with all plastic containers, be sure to confirm that they’re free of BPA-based colorants – or just make it easy on yourself and go with white.
Watch Out for Those Sneaky Little Seedlings
It starts getting dicey when you look at seedling trays. Most of the carrying trays that hold the inserts are made from polypropylene, which is good. The problem is that the inserts or cells we've researched are usually made of flexible polystyrene (as you’d find in disposable utensils) or expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam). Both polystyrene trays fall into the #6 plastics category, which should be avoided.
Give Paper Egg Cartons a Try!
If you're looking for a non-toxic, biodegradable seedling starter, try using paper egg cartons so you can plant them right in your garden without having to transfer the sprouts.
They're exactly the right size to plant seeds and to keep them indoors until they germinate. Once they've sprouted, simply separate each of the cups and pop them right into your garden!
NOTE: Don't forget to stay away from foam or hard plastic egg cartons though because they're usually made from polystyrene (#6 plastic) too.
Don't Taint Clean Water with a Toxic Hose
Your typical garden hose is made from the most toxic plastic currently in existence: PVC (vinyl). HealthyStuff.org tested 21 different garden hoses and found phthalates (endocrine-disruptors), antimony and bromine (markers of flame retardants used in plastics) and lead.
Jeff Gearhart, research director at HealthyStuff.org, said:
We know that these chemicals make it into plants. We just can't show a connection between hoses and chemicals showing up in a plant.
The safest way to ensure your garden doesn't end up tainted with toxic chemicals is to use a hose made specifically for drinking water. The best options we've found made from safer materials are listed below:
So it’s doable after all. Just keep on researching those plastics!
*This article was originally published in Issue #4 of our Newsletter in 2011. The research and content has been updated to reflect new information.