Pushing Plastics by Cal Diller
Plastics aren't going anywhere, and expect recycling to become a common practice across the board.
November 11, 2008
Moving forward over the next 25 years, recovering and recycling plastics will be critical to the future of the greenhouse floriculture industry. Plastic continues to be the most energy efficient, lightweight and durable material for growing and packaging plants. The advent of plastic flats, inserts, pots and plug trays helped revolutionize the industry and its production and merchandising systems
Our family has been in the horticultural container business for over 60 years. We started with a sawmill-making wooden (cedar) greenhouse flats. Many bedding plants used to be grown in an open flat (11 by 22 inches).
At retail, they would cut plants from the flat and wrap them in newspaper. Plastic began showing up in the horticultural container industry in the late 1950s. At the urging of our customers we began producing thermoformed plastic containers in 1962. Plastic really helped fuel the growth within the industry by making it easier to grow, market and sell plants. The plug revolution could not have happened without the singulated cells in plug trays.
At East Jordan Plastics, we remain committed to plastic containers and believe recycling them at the end of their useful life is an answer to sustainability. We are already using over 75 percent recycled plastics to manufacture our products and have a goal of 100 percent.
The petroleum-based plastics we use today will be in the marketplace for a long time. In my opinion, bio-resins have not advanced to the point of being a solution for the horticultural container business. So many claims are not substantiated or practical as related to being biodegradable or compostable. Costs for containers manufactured from peat, fibers and bio-resins are usually higher. Peat and fiber container transportation costs are usually at least three times higher due to the poor nestability.
Setting Up Collection Systems
One of the biggest issues surrounding recycling is the collection and setting up the infrastructure to return used containers. Plastic container manufacturers typically use one or more of three plastic resins: Polyethylene No. 2; Polypropylene No. 5; Polystyrene No. 6. All three are highly recyclable.
The three primary collection points to recover horticultural containers are:
- Growers. Containers that don't leave the greenhouse including plug and handling trays. These are easily collected.
- Retailers. Containers that stay at retailers including shuttle trays and flats. The grower can recover these from retailers. Also, if the retailer is receptive to allowing home gardeners to bring their plastic containers back, they can be placed on empty grower carts and returned to the grower.
- Municipal Recycling. Curbside recycling has become more common throughout the country and most rural areas offer recycling centers. Encouraging these centers to accept horticultural plastic containers will help all consumers to have an outlet to recycle.
Opportunities for Growers
We decided to be proactive and move ahead with our own recycling program. If we're not proactive, we are not going to be able to sustain our business. The products we manufacture will shift to other materials due to public, retailer or legislative demands. We have invested in the equipment and facility to recycle all three primary resin types used for horticultural containers. We are presently working with our grower customers and retailers to collect these containers. Our goal is to create a total closed loop recycling program.
The growers we are working with are amazed at the variety of containers. Many of the containers can be reused. Savings add up quickly when looking at thousands of containers coming back. Those that can't be reused are collected to be recycled. This is the real economic incentive for growers to be the first to get their hands on these containers. We are attempting to do everything we can to promote and facilitate the recycling of horticultural containers. I believe with a cooperative effort between all parties we can continue supplying quality, economical, plastic containers while enhancing the green image of the industry.