Garden Recyclables: Loblaws picks up what city workers leave behind.

Photo: Loblaw

As many green thumb readers will know, May and June, mark the time for planting and waking up your garden so it can produce glorious summer color and fragrance. Many will purchase new flowers, shrubs, herbs and all other types of budding new plants from their local greenhouse and will look at the plastic pots or seedling trays and think, “Oh, it is number 5 plastic, it can go in my blue box.” Into the blue box the  plastic garden trays and pots go, but do they really get recycled?

The answer, in most cities across Canada, is no! These recyclables will actually find their way into landfill!

Why?

Well, even if your local recycling service picks them up (in some cities they get left behind on your curb), at the sorting plant the majority of these pots get set aside as they may be considered “dirty” and head off to landfill. Most city recycling plants are looking for “clean” plastics to recycle, yes literally clean containers.

Though you may be shocked by this discovery, fear not. Loblaw banner stores across Canada are going to help you out, and it won’t even require an extra trip to the recycling plant - in fact Loblaw solution, refined over the last 3 years, will not cost you any extra effort or increase your carbon footprint!

Loblaw’s established Canada’s first national Garden Centre Recycled Pot Program. First implemented in 2008, the program enables gardeners to return empty plastic pots and flats to Loblaw banner stores’ Garden Centers and receive a reward for their efforts (a $5 coupon for a minimum of 25 pots returned).

Here’s how it works: customers purchase plants, they return empty pots and flats to a Loblaw banner garden centre, empty pots are shipped back to the greenhouse where they’re reduced in a crusher, bales of plastic are formed and taken to the pot factory, the plastic is shredded to make pellets, then pellets are used to make new pots and flats, which are then filled with beautiful plants and flowers to take home, then the cycle starts again.

So, if you are heading out to do your grocery shopping or even to get some seedlings, you can just take your garden recyclables and drop them off! No extra trip. Loblaw is also not picky about when you purchased the pots or from where, just bring what you need to recycle and they are happy to take care of it for you.

Over the last 3 years, Loblaw has worked hard to improve the system. The first year they brought in big dumpsters for customers to just drop off their pots. However, this resulted in only 5,000 pounds of recyclables being contained in each dumpster due to pots not being stacked and the space not being efficiently used, Myers (the plant that makes the pots) was having to organize extra trips to the stores as dumpsters were overflowing. The second year Loblaw figured that having a drop off area where they were able to stack and organize the containers and load the dumpsters themselves would be easier. The result was each large container being able to hold 20,000 pounds of waste versus 5,000.

This year, Loblaw improved its program to include essentially any plastic plant containers. But there’s also an added environmental and financial benefit to the Canadian growers with whom Loblaw partners to source new and exciting plants for the Canadian marketplace. Growers like Linwell Gardens in Ontario, for example, are able to secure an additional source of revenue by serving as a crushing site for the returned pots, which they can later sell to horticultural container manufacturer Myers Industries in Brantford – thus completing the recycling loop. The costs invested by growers to implement this recyclable program have been compensated in a short period of time. With the Growers, who are dropping off plants to the stores, picking up the waste and breaking it down for Myers, extra trips to pick up the waste and take it to the recycling plant have been eliminated.

Though the recycling program is a step forward, Loblaw is also researching more sustainable materials for their pots, which would biodegrade versus need to be recycled. One alternative is Coir, a material made from coconut fibers.

The Loblaw plant recycling program has been met with great enthusiasm by gardeners and has generated the following milestones since its inception:

  • 1.2 million pounds of plastic pots and flats recycled
  • $60,000 worth of coupons redeemed by more than 12,500 gardeners
  • 10 per cent reduction of plastic in the production of containers