Plastic Alternatives

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Traditional plastic pots are a bulky byproduct of most garden projects. The green industry is looking to change that with more widespread use of degradable pots. Each year new options enter the market. Here’s what you need to know about the alternative containers that could end up on your benches.

November 15, 2010

Biopots, from Bellan International, are made from bamboo, rice husks and straw. Biopots are a pollution-free, degradable alternative to plastic. Grower pots range in size from 2½ inches up to 8 inches. The lifespan is one year outdoors (planted) and three years indoors (planted).

CowPots, made from cow manure, have been rigorously tested and validated by the University of Connecticut and many independent nursery partners. The naturally porous property of manure enables tender, young roots to easily penetrate the sides and bottoms of CowPots. This allows for air pruning and the formation of root buds and secondary root development throughout the pot, providing dense, healthy root systems.

Biodegradable DOT Pots are made from all-natural wood fibers —80 percent spruce fibers and 20 percent peat moss. DOT Pots contain no glues or binders, allowing the plant roots to grow through the pot during a normal production cycle. The plant’s growth is not impeded by the walls of the pot. This creates a vigorous, non-girdled root system that spreads out evenly and uniformly.

Made from rice hulls and natural binding agents, EcoForms are the environmentally friendly alternative to plastic pots. The company’s tests have shown that plants grow better in EcoForms than in traditional plastic pots due to their insulating design, which leads to thriving, healthy plants. EcoForms pots contain no wood or petroleum ingredients and do not deplete natural or edible resources. When used outdoors, EcoForms pots will last at least five years and even longer when used indoors. They are intended for use above the ground, and show no damage when exposed to freezing or thawing conditions.

The Ecotainer is a new and environmentally friendly product made from Plastarch (PSM), which uses starch as its main ingredient. Plastarch is a complete degradation material and is distinctive in terms of mechanical performance such as rigidity, flexibility, ductility and elasticity. Ecotainers have been successfully tested at more than 200 growing operations throughout North America. www.floralmarketing

Fertilpots are biodegradable wood- fiber pots composed primarily of spruce (Picea abies) fibers, and are manufactured without the use of glues or binders. They are not peat pots. Fertilpots are truly biodegradable and are intended to be planted directly in the ground or in the next larger container. Fertilpots do not require a composting situation to degrade.

Kord Fiber Grow
ITML Horticultural Products’ Kord Fiber Grow nursery containers are made from recycled paper and cardboard. The pots promote healthy plant growth and root development. The pots insulate roots from temperature fluctuations.

Root Pouch
Root Pouch containers are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PETE), which comes from recycled plastic beverage bottles. The manufacturing process turns the plastic into non-woven fabric, which is used to make a full line of nursery containers. The containers are available in several different densities and degradable life spans. Plants grown in Root Pouch containers have been shown to produce more fibrous roots that do not circle the pots.

The StrawPot from Ivy Acres is made from rice straw, coconut husks and a natural latex adhesive. The pots show no signs of decomposing above ground. Because the container material is porous, air circulates through the pot and prunes the roots of plants to the interior of the pot. The consumer can put the StrawPot directly in the ground, where the pots begin a three to six month biodegrading process. Sizes range from 3 ½ inches to 2 gallons.

Western Pulp
Western Pulp’s molded fiber containers are made from cellulose and provide good insulation against heat and cold. Containers are biodegradable and can be composted. Large and extra large containers made from the company’s standard nursery formulation with asphalt emulsion will last longer than thin wall rose containers made from straight paper. The metal and nylon hangers, as well as the brass eyelets used on Western Pulp’s baskets, are not biodegradable, but they are recyclable.

All descriptions were supplied by the manufacturers.


Purdue’s Roberto Lopez found that consumers are willing to pay more for a variety of sustainable pots that use recycled materials. Photo by Tom CampbellConsumers will shell out for sustainable pots
For the sake of sustainability, consumers are willing to put their money —at least some of it—where their mouths are, according to a Purdue University-led study.

Surveys have consistently shown that consumers say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products in the floriculture industry. The industry has been slow to adopt items such as sustainable pots.

"The floriculture industry uses a lot of plastic, and, in recent years, has come under pressure to become more sustainable and use biodegradable or compostable pots," said Roberto G. Lopez, an assistant professor of horticulture at Purdue and co-author of the paper on the findings. "There is concern about recouping the costs of becoming sustainable. People say they are willing to spend 50 cents more for sustainable pots, so we wanted to see if they actually would.”

Lopez and Jennifer H. Dennis, an associate professor of horticulture and agricultural economics at Purdue, teamed with researchers at Michigan State University, Texas A&M University and the University of Minnesota to see if consumers' actual purchases would match up with what they said they would pay. Groups of consumers were given $30 each at silent auctions. They could walk away with the money or put in bids on flowers contained in different types of pots.

Each auction item gave information on the type of pot, the carbon footprint it had and the amount of recycled materials it contained. Bids were averaged to see what people would pay for the plants in sustainable pots.
In surveys, consumers said they would pay 69 cents more on average for pots made from rice hulls. At the auctions, they were willing to pay 58 cents more. For straw pots, the consumers said they would pay 63 cents more, and at auction they were willing to pay 37 cents more. And consumers said they'd pay 24 cents more for wheat pots, and actually paid 23 cents more at auction.

Lopez said results of the study are good news for the floriculture industry, which has seen costs rise much faster than prices it has been able to charge. Natural gas has more than doubled in price over the last decade, while the price of poinsettias has increased only 11 percent in that time.

For more: Roberto Lopez,