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Ask the Master – Are You a Plastic Gardener?

Our world is basically plastic! If something isn’t metal, stone, glass, wood or leather, then it’s almost always plastic, no matter what its technical name.

Plastic is basically oil, coal, natural gas, soybeans, cellulose (organic polymer chiefly made of wood pulp and cotton) and salt. The problem? What do all plastics turn into if they end up in a landfill or incinerator, whether they are compostable, degradable or even bio-degradable. It’s almost always toxic in the broken down form. Landfills today are filling up at faster and faster, unsupportable rates and some have already been shut down. Incinerators of even the newest technology still cannot produce perfectly clean ash or air from the process. Plastics and metals just cannot be reduced to a humus based material needed to grow food.

The purpose of using natural products to make plastic may not even be for safety. Sometimes it’s a matter of available raw materials, practical use, market cost and of course, convenience.

Hemp can be and is already used in plastics, but again there is the problem of raising an organic crop without the use of high amounts of chemicals, fossil fuel transportation and of chemicals used in the manufacturing process.

For one day, consider every item that goes into your trash, and see how much of it could be recycled, reused or composted. Imagine that amount in every household in the US. Are we even able to stop the rising toxicity of the trash that we try to send back to nature in one way or the other?

What can a gardener do to make a difference?

When buying starter plants, look for those raised in manure pots, peat pots or pots made of other natural substances. You can even use newspapers to make sturdy pots in which to raise small or larger garden plants. Reuse old plastic pots till they crumble.

Water retentive potting soil will usually contain some sort of man-made material that will absorb and release water when needed. While the crystals that hold water in the soil are initially safe, they do degrade down to potentially carcinogenic substances. Mix your own soil using renewable resource materials such as peat, compost and coconut coir. It will retain water just as well as those with artificial additives.

Reuse old venetian blinds for plant tags, rinse and save them for the next year, then toss in the trash when they are unusable. Save your plastic drink cups as well to reuse for raising plants.

Save plastic containers used for items such as milk, juice and water, to use as mini-greenhouses to protect delicate plants, or to do winter sowing. It works in even the coldest US climates.

Stop buying plastic garden pots, decorations, tools, aprons, barriers, and weed blocking fabricsand buy in favor of those made with organic natural materials. It’s not a perfect answer, but it is a step up the line to a cleaner, safer world.

Pick up a stash of organic natural shopping bags and forget about the flimsy or even reusable bags at the markets. Wash them after use and air dry. Once they are ready for reuse, store them immediately in your car in a container that is easy to reach.

Reduce, reuse, and recycle till the plastics load going out of your house to a landfill is vastly less.

Grow as much of your food as cleanly as possible, and do not waste your crop. Compost leftovers or even get a few chickens to eat the scraps. You’ll get free organic eggs!

It’s not necessarily about making a huge difference in the world all by yourself. Most importantly you will get the satisfaction of knowing you aren’t a supporting part of the growing problem. Live clean and live well.

If you have questions, then Certified Master Gardeners who are local volunteers trained by Penn State to answer Horticulture questions with properly researched information are just a phone call or an e-mail away. For a “best practices” answer to your question, call Penn State Jefferson County Extension at 849-7361, Ext 508, e-mail JeffersonMG@psu.edu, or mail your question to 186 Main Street, Suite 3, Brookville, PA 15825.

Penn State is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer, and is committed to providing employment opportunities to all qualified applicants without regard to race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or protected veteran status.

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