Zero-Waste Gardening Ideas

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

Orta has been zero-waste since we first started shipping seed pots in 2012.  In honor of Plastic-Free July, I've dug into the archives to bring you some images from the early days as we figured out plastic-free packaging. 

Scroll down for 3 gardening ideas for you to reduce your own plastic footprint.

First, the archives:

plastic-free zero-waste packaging

plastic-free zero-waste packaging
Our original packaging for fulfilling rewards from our Kickstarter:  Padded paper, kraft paper tape, pretty stickers, and strict quality control enforced by Catson. The first Orta packaging station and warehouse, in my living room, with Mom wrapping pots.
Plastic-free zero waste packaging
Packaging gets more serious as we near the end of Kickstarter fulfillment, operating out of Orta's first commercial space.  Note the paper tape, and tons of cardboard all around.  (The labor is still friends and family though!  This is my sister and three good friends.  Can you spot my friends' baby in the corner?)

plastic free zero waste packaging plastic free zero waste packaging
Because we didn't ship our pots in the typical bubble wrap, we had trouble with breakage at first.  (Lots of people told us we should just give up and use bubble wrap, but we were committed to zero waste, even in 2012.) We redesigned the packaging, and submitted it to lots of tests, including dropping rocks on it.  The pot survived this rock! The solution turned out to be this honeycomb cardboard.  It's light and strong, and completely compostable and recyclable.  We still use it today.  (We still use that same ruler to cut it too!)

plastic free zero waste packaging plastic free zero waste packaging
This is the retail packaging for our 12-Pack:  A cardboard tray, padded with corrugated paper, and wrapped in translucent vellum paper, all compostable and recyclable.  And this is how we ship it, nestled into a box lined with honeycomb, and padded with kraft crinkle paper, sealed with kraft paper tape.


We're always trying to figure out how to do a better job with packaging, to use less material, and ship without plastic.  Our most recent innovations are sourcing potting soils and ingredients made from compressed coconut coir. Because it's dry, it's easy to ship in a plain kraft paper bag. 

plastic free sunscreen coconut coir 

And we're excited about the sunscreen we found that comes in a cardboard tube.  As gardeners, we go through a lot of sunscreen, and all those plastic tubes were really piling up.

If you're thinking about ways to have less plastic waste in your life, here are a few ideas for you:

grow your own salad

1.  Grow your own salad leaves

Lettuce and salad greens are one of the easiest and most compact vegetables you can grow, and they can tolerate less than full sun.  I've got about 10 square feet dedicated to salad greens, and it's been more than plenty.  We give lettuce away regularly because we can't keep up with it!  

Because lettuce tends to come in a plastic bag or clamshell from the store, growing your own cuts out all that plastic.  And homegrown also tastes WAY better than the pre-bagged stuff.

basil from seed

2.  Start your plants from seed

If you depend on the nursery for all your starts, you end up with a plastic pot for every plant you buy.  And depending on the recycling services where you live, those pots often go straight to landfill.  

We won a grant from StopWaste because our pots make it much easier to successfully start seeds and reduce the waste from nursery pots.  But you don't need to buy anything to start seeds, if you're diligent about watering.  We have a detailed how-to guide here.

3.  Make your own potting soil, or buy in bulk.

I made a video showing how to make your own potting soil using coconut coir bricks.  (You can get the bricks from us, or at most garden centers.).  

You can also usually get bulk potting soil from a landscape supply company, the sorts of places that sell truckloads of mulch and gravel.  You can bring your own bags and shovels and load materials yourself, or get materials delivered by the yard to your driveway, if you can use a whole yard of potting soil!

I know that for me personally, using less plastic makes me feel good.  But as Mary Annaise Heglar wrote so well in this essay, it's important not to get caught up in shame for your environmental "sins." 

It shouldn't be each individual's responsibility to scour the internet to find the one brand of sunscreen in a compostable package.  You should be able get your usual groceries and supplies without having to choose between tons of plastic packaging or tons of mental energy (and often extra expense) to find the plastic-free alternative. 

We need to pressure the companies responsible for the plastic pollution to stop it before it starts.  And for those of us in positions to change how business operates, it's our responsibility to make clean options easy and normal.

When we started down this path in 2012, we were outliers in our insistence on zero-waste.  But it gives me great hope that awareness of plastic pollution is going mainstream, and that though the waste continues to grow, the emergence of alternatives is growing even faster.

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