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Are Plant Pots Recyclable?

Over the years most avid gardeners will accrue a bewildering number of plants pots in all types and sizes – from ceramic to plastic. So what can you do with all the ones you no longer need – can they be recycled?

Most plant pots are recyclable. Depending what material they’re made of they can be washed and picked up curbside or reused for other plants. They can also be recycled at stores like Lowes and Home Depot who work with specialist recycling companies. 

Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, and consider how you can recycle plant pots made of various materials so we’re all doing our bit for the environment.

Are Plastic Plant Pots Recyclable?

Some curbside collections will take plastic plants pots, so you can simply put them out with your usual recycling cart. However, other collectors won’t take them, as they’re made from a range of different plastics so are tricky to sort and recycle.

The best thing to do is check locally: a quick Google search should help you out which materials your local curbside collector will take.

If you can recycle your plant pots curbside, please clean them out first. They may be rejected if they have dirt or bits of plant left in them. As well as potential contaminants, bits of grit can damage the machinery at the processing depot.

Don’t stack the pots in your recycling cart, or if you do, stack the same sort together. This is because they’ll need to be sorted into types, as they are made from a variety of plastics.

Also, collectors that will accept plant pots don’t always take plastic plant labels, as they’re so small. Separate these out before putting out your pots.

However, the stumbling block comes with black plastic pots: and here’s why.

Are Black Plastic Nursery Pots & Trays Recyclable?

Black plastic plant pots and other containers such as seed trays are a common sight in garden centres. But, they pose a big problem to the conscientious gardener, as black plastic isn’t recyclable.

Why can’t you recycle black plastic, when all other colors seem fine? Unfortunately, the black comes from a dye made from carbon inks. These inks don’t break down, meaning that blackplastic pots and trays are single-use plastic. So, it’s very hard to keep black plastic out of landfill.

As consumers, we can vote with our wallets and stop buying black plastic. It’s easy enough to choose plants that come in different colored pots. However, we don’t tend to choose our flowers or vegetables based on the color of their container, so sometimes we simply have to accept that our pots will be black.

If you end up with black plastic pots or trays from the garden center, the best thing to do is re-use them. Seed trays can be used year after year provided you look after them. Wash and disinfect them thoroughly between uses, to reduce the risk of spreading diseases among plants. 

When the seedlings grow a little bigger, you can move them into the black plastic plant pots before finally transplanting them into the soil.

How Do I Recycle Plastic Plant Pots (& Where)?

There are a few options for recycling plastic plant pots. The first step is to think about whether you can actually reuse them. Smaller pots are great for seedlings, and you can transplant more mature plants into larger pots.

If you have indoor plants in ornamental containers, pot them in a plastic pot then place them inside the container. As more decorative plant pots don’t tend to have holes but plastic ones do, this is the ideal combination.

But what if you don’t need to re-use these pots, and don’t want to hang onto them? As we mentioned earlier, some curbside collections will take your plant pots alongside your regular household plastic recycling. 

If they don’t, the first place to try is your garden center. The larger garden centers have recycling schemes (more about this in a minute), but don’t assume that your smaller, local center won’t have a reuse or recycle program.

It varies from garden center to garden center. Some accept all plastic plant pots, some don’t accept any, and others just take specific types or pots you bought from them in the first place.

Can Ceramic & Clay Plant Pots Be Recycled?

No they can’t, but they can be reused. If they’re in poor condition, you can smash them up to use as drainage at the bottom of other plant pots. This is a common use for old ceramic and clay pots, and is a great way to make sure they have a long, useful life.

Ceramic and clay shards are your key to excellent drainage in container gardening. You can smash the old pots by covering them in tarp and hitting them with a mallet. Wash the pieces in a bowl of soapy water to make sure they’re clean (they must be free from mold), then place them in the bottom of your new plant pot, stacked over the drainage hole. 

They create a layer of aggregate that allows water to drain and prevents the soil in the pot from becoming waterlogged. Clay shards are also more porous than other aggregates. Don’t waste any dust or tiny shards left over from the smashing: mix them up with the soil.

Where to recycle plant pots?

How Do You Dispose of Ceramic Plant Pots Ethically?

As we’ve discovered, ceramic and clay plant pots can’t be recycled but they can be reused. If they’re not damaged, the easiest solution is to use them for another plant, provided they have been well cleaned out first. There’s always a risk of transferring diseases between different plants, so always wash and disinfect used pots.

If you really don’t want the pot yourself, some thrift stores will accept a clean and attractive plant pot, or you may be able to sell it locally. Local schools may also be interested in your old pots if they’re running a gardening project. This is a great way to prolong the life of a useful object that can’t be recycled.

We’ve already talked about using smashed pots as drainage in other containers. But what if you had a really pretty pot that’s cracked or chipped, but you feel bad about smashing because it’s still too nice?

In that case, it’s time to get creative. Smashed clay and ceramic pots can make really attractive outdoor decorations. Combine shards of your pretty pot with pebbles and stone fragments to make an eye-catching border for your garden path. 

Go for it, and create smashed pot mirror frames or table tops. You can get craft cement to embed the shards in (just make sure everything is sealed if you’re making decorations for your yard).

The alternative? Your old pots end up in landfill. We think we can be much more imaginative than that with our used clay and ceramic pots.

Do Major Outdoor Stores Like Lowes & Home Depot Have Plant Pot Recycling Programs?

As we mentioned, some garden centers will take your old pots, but not all of them will. However if you live near a big outdoor store chain like Lowes or Home Depot, they are happy to take your plastic pots – and to give them a new useful life. 

Outdoor store chain Lowes will recycle your used plastic plant pots. They accept plastic pots, seed trays, plant labels and even clean compost sacks. These are then recycled into new plant pots. Lowes should accept pots from plants that were purchased elsewhere.

Back in 2009, Home Depot launched a plant pot recycling scheme. It’s a two-phase approach: customers bring their used pots to a store to be reused for new plants, and when the pots become too worn or damaged to have a useful new life, they’re recycled.

Home Depot works in partnership with East Jordan Plastics. This company recycles the old plastic pots into new ones, as well as seed trays and hanging baskets. Each year, East Jordan Plastics recycles an incredible 15 million pounds of old plastic containers.

Final Thoughts

So when it comes to recycling plant pots it breaks down like this; most plastic ones apart from black ones can be picked up curbside by local recycling companies (once they’ve been cleaned out). Alternatively, they can be taken to your nearest Lowes or Home Depot who can recycle them for you.When it comes to black plastic pots, ceramic and clay pots, these can’t be recycled – so unless you want to add them to the ever-growing landfill mountain they can simply be reused. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >