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Wishcycling and Plastic Plant Pots

Updated: Apr 23

Crushed plastic water bottles

95% of plastics in the U.S. do not get recycled. This statistic is alarming, and it’s something that most consumers don’t realize. Education around recycling programs was lacking when it started in the 1970s. People were more than ready and willing to begin the habit of recycling once these programs became available. Recycling meant that the guilt of using materials like plastic, glass and metals would be greatly reduced. The problem was that no one told them most of the materials they were throwing into the bin were not going to be recycled. 

This is because recycling is essentially a business. Someone has to be willing to buy the materials and reuse them. Most plastics are not high quality enough for anyone to want to buy them and reuse them. There are only 2 resin types that are recycled by most jurisdictions. Those are PET and HDPE, or No. 1 and No. 2 as shown in the recycle symbol you’ll find on the bottom. 

What is wishcycling?

Wishcycling is the act of placing items one hopes will be recycled into the recycling bin without being sure that they are recyclable. It stems from hopeful thinking, something humans are prone to. The lack of education around how recycling works from the beginning of these programs can be identified as one of the roots of the wishcycling problem. The problem itself lies in the fact that wishcycling can do much more harm than good. Putting materials into sorting machines that don’t belong can be costly. It can damage sorting equipment and create a need for extra labor costs. It can even cause some communities to halt their recycling programs altogether, sending their recyclables right into the landfills. 

One of the main ways the U.S. was able to get rid of most of its plastic waste went capoot in 2018. Before 2018, the U.S. had a deal with China. China would purchase millions of tons of scrap metal, papers and plastics, making it inexpensive for us to manage our waste. Then came Operation National Sword, a new set of restrictions on imports of most waste materials from abroad. China would no longer accept plastic waste with a contamination level above 0.05 percent, as opposed to the previously allowed 10 percent. Since the U.S. had underinvested in ways to recycle locally, this created an enormous backup of waste. The only silver lining of these restrictions was the newly brought awareness of how unreliable recycling really is. Consumers have begun to see the flaws and protest against single-use plastics. 

The problem with plastic pots

A pile of plastic plant pots for seedlings

Now that we know only No. 1 No. 2 resins are usually recyclable, let’s discuss what plant pots are made from. Many of the plastic plant pots you’ll find in your local nursery are No. 5. The ones that are not No. 5 are usually No. 2. Good news, right? Not quite. Those No. 2 pots are often black. It turns out that many recycling facilities use optical readers to scan and detect plastic items. However, those optical readers cannot detect black. This means that any black plastics are often tossed aside knowing that the reader won’t detect it anyway. An analysis done in the UK using one of these optical readers showed that it detected zero percent of black plastics. 

These shortcomings of our recycling abilities in the U.S. is beyond frustrating to people who care about plants and therefore, the planet. Until we have bigger investments in place, better programs and less plastics in general, we must be sure to educate ourselves on what is and is not recyclable and then avoid those non-recyclable materials altogether. Sadly, 59% of Americans still think “most types of items” can be recycled in their community. Sorters frequently find an array of non-recyclables such as car parts, mannequin arms, bowling balls and plastic bags in their equipment just to name a few. 

EcoForms exists because of these issues. Our rice hull pots are here to provide the biodegradable alternative to plastic pots we’ve all been searching for. Furthermore, our pots are far more durable and long-lasting than plastic. As for the plants themselves, tests have shown that roots develop more successfully in natural materials than in plastic. Typically when a plant’s roots reach the edge of a plastic pot, they begin growing in circles. In natural materials, they can sense the cooler air as they reach the wall and begin to branch, creating a denser network of roots instead of becoming root bound. 

There is hope yet for people to become more educated and more responsible with the materials we use. We hope next time you’re about to toss something in your recycling bin, you’ll think twice and do your research first. EcoForms is here to spread the word and a viable alternative to plastic plant pots, while supporting and partnering with similarly minded eco-conscious businesses.


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