Can Plastic Plant Pots Be Recycled?

Recycling, reusing, and reducing are some of the most effective ways of preserving our environment. Reusing plastic instead of sending it to the landfill reduces the amount of waste produced, conserves natural resources, and decreases the carbon footprint. There are innumerable plastic products that can be recycled, but can plastic plant pots be recycled? 

Most plastic plant pots made of resin types 2, 4, and 5 can be recycled. Plastic plant pots made of resin code 6 are usually not recycled. Generally, black plastic pots are not accepted for recycling and are disposed of in general waste bins.

This article discusses issues around the recyclability of plastic plant pots, factors that render plastic plant pot recycling difficult, and why you should recycle plastic plant pots. I’ll also tell you how to recycle plastic plant pots and where to recycle them. Let’s start by exploring our key question. 

Three of Four Resins Used for Plastic Pots Are Recyclable

Among the materials used to make plant pots, plastic is preferred for its versatility, durability, and light weight. That explains the near-universal usage of plastics in the plant nursery and greenhouse industries. 

According to an Allied Market Research report, plastic pots were the highest contributor to the planters and flower pots market in 2020 globally, accounting for $328.1 million. That amount is expected to grow to $479.6 million by 2030.

This high plastic plant pot usage comes with an equally high plastic plant pot waste generation. In deduction, plant pots waste contributes a considerable part of the overall plastic waste. 

In the US, the plastic waste generation rate was estimated at 40.1 million tons by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and 51.0 million tons by the NASEM (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine) in 2016. Unfortunately, only 6% of the overall plastic waste was recycled

Does this low plastic waste recycling rate mean plastic products like plant pots cannot be recycled?

Most plastic plant pots can be recycled because, of the four types of plastics (resins) used in horticulture, three types are recyclable.

Here’s a table summary of the resin types used in horticulture and their recyclability:

Plastic (Resin) TypeResin CodeRecyclability
High-density polyethylene (HDPE)#2Recycled 
Low-density polyethylene (LDPE)#4Recycled
Polypropylene (PP)#5Usually recycled, unless black
High impact polystyrene (PS)#6Usually not recycled (should be avoided for use in garden pots)

While the type of resin used to make plastic plant pots is the primary determinant of whether they can be recycled, there are other market and consumer factors that can render plastic plant pot recycling difficult.

Factors That Make Recycling Difficult

Many people using plastic plant pots believe in the benefits of recycling them. Nonetheless, there are several factors that can lender this belief a dream difficult to realize. 

Here are 3 of the main factors that make plastic plant pot recycling difficult:

A Cumbersome and Costly Recycling Process

The general plastic recycling process happens in 6 key steps:

  1. Collection: Plastic products are collected from curbsides, businesses, and recycling centers and taken to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF).
  2. Sorting: Plastics are sorted based on the resin codes. This involves both manual and mechanized, automated processes.
  3. Washing: Plastics are washed to remove labels, adhesives, and any residual dirt from their previous contents.
  4. Shredding: This is also known as grinding and involves turning recycled plastics into small flakes. 
  5. Melting and Pressing: This involves melting the plastic flakes and passing them through an extruder to make new pellets using chemical recycling or mechanical recycling.
  6. Plastic Manufacturing: The plastic pellets are used to create new plastic products for use at home, in product packaging, or, in our case, for horticultural purposes.

According to the US Association of Professional Landscape Designers, the process of recycling plastic plant pots is burdensome, complex, and expensive. Some phases of the recycling process can also be rendered even more difficult by the state of the pots being recycled. 

For example, black plastic plant pots are painted with carbon inks. During the sorting stage, optical readers do not see through black plastic plant pots, which are the majority. As a result, black plastic plant pots mostly end up in the landfill. 

Contamination and Damage

Growing plants in plastic pots entails the use of soil, fertilizers, and pesticides. Their residue in plastic pots can lower the quality of plastic and contaminate the plastic material stream during the recycling process. Contamination by soil residue, pesticides, and fertilizers increases plant pots’ sanitation costs and makes their recyclability more difficult. 

In addition, some plastic plant pots are made from mixed resins, rendering them difficult to recycle. This is because different resin types melt at different temperatures.

Also, plastic plant pots are often damaged by ultraviolet rays. These rays cause plastic degradation, reduce its flexibility, and break the polymers, rendering them unrecyclable.

Collection Issues

Plastic plant pots can be delivered at curbsides or plastic collection centers. Some plastic recycling businesses and companies also collect plant pots from horticultural firms for a fee. 

Nonetheless, there are some factors that hamper plastic waste recycling in the horticulture sector.

According to a study carried out in Georgia, high pick fees are one of the reasons that lower the rate of plastic waste recycling in horticulture.

Other factors limiting the collection of plastic pots for recycling among consumers include:

Trouble of Sorting, Storing, and Cleaning

Plant pot recycling requirements indicate that the pots should be “empty, rinsed, and dry.” They should also be sorted according to shape, size, and resin type.

Many consumers find this to be a cumbersome prerequisite.

Difficulty Identifying Recycling Stamps

Most of these stamps are tiny, and their location may not facilitate recognition. This leads to mixing resins and the consequent contamination.

Limited Access to Plastic Pot Recycling Centers

A lack of access to recycling centers that do recycle plastic pots means many consumers find traveling in search of a recycling center as additional work, preferring to dispose of the pots in general waste bins.  

Despite these challenges, consumers should be persuaded by the benefits of recycling plastic plant pots. These benefits are the reason we should recycle plastic plant pots in the first place.

Why We Should Recycle Plastic Plant Pots

If not recycled, plastic plant pots turn into single-use plastic containers that we use in our home landscapes or horticultural businesses and then send into waste bins and to the landfill. 

To counter this, there are many reasons for recycling plastic plant pots that add up to benefits and which should persuade us to recycle them. 

Below are 5 benefits of recycling plastic plant pots:

  • Less plastic in landfills: Collecting plastic plant pots for recycling diverts them from ending up in landfills. This ensures less air, water, and land pollution.
  • Conservation of oil and gas raw materials: The primary raw materials in plastics are crude oil and natural gas. Harvesting virgin raw materials to make new plastics depletes natural resources. As such, recycling conserves plastic raw materials. 
  • Reduction of CO emissions: Recycling plastics is less labor and energy-intensive, consequently reducing carbon emissions.
  • More cost-effective: Compared to creating new plastic plant pots, recycling is a cheaper process: fewer virgin plastic polymers are used, and less energy is utilized.
  • Good consumer practice: Recycling plastic plant pots sustains the “reduce-reuse-recycle” culture among consumers.

Considering these benefits of recycling plastic plant pots, it is important that consumers learn how and where to recycle plastic plant pots.

How to Recycle

The process of recycling plastics at the recycling plant was discussed earlier.

Before this process takes place, however, consumers need to play their part in the recycling process by following the steps below:

Clean the Pots

Before depositing the plastic plant pot at a recycling center, you must remove remnant debris and soil. This ensures that the plastic will not be contaminated and that the soil does not cause damage to the recycling machines.

Sort Them by Size and Materials

Sorting means separating the pots by shape, color, and resin type. The pots could be round, triangular, rectangular, or square in shape. They can be white or painted brown, green, or gray. 

Check the resin code on the pot to sort by resin type. Remember that black plastic plant pots are usually not recycled and should go to the general waste bin.

Stack the Pots

Once the plastic plant pots are sorted, stack them accordingly to ensure similar pots stay together and take less space in the recycle bin. Stacking plastic pots also ensures the same polymers are recycled together at the recycling plant.

Where to Recycle Plastic Pots

Once cleaning, sorting, and stacking are done, you can now drop the plastic plant pots at a plastic collection point. Most local authorities have curbside plastic collection points, though others don’t. You’ll need to check if yours does.

Other options for recycling plastic pots include recycling programs such as The Home Depot’s Plant it Again Program and Lowe’s Wishcycler.

If you cannot recycle plastic plant pots, repurposing them is also possible.

Options for repurposing plastic plant pots include:

  • Using them as fertilizer shakers
  • Using them to plant split potted plants
  • Using them to scoop soil
  • Turning them into permanent holes for placing new plant pots instead of digging new holes into the soil each time
  • Using them for home décor

Repurposing plastic plant pots will also save money you would otherwise use to buy new ones.

Final Thoughts

Plastic is one of the materials commonly used in making plastic pots. Generally, these pots are made from type 2, 4, 5, and 6 resins, meaning that most can be recycled. To recycle plastic plant pots, consumers should ensure they are cleaned after use, sorted by resin type and shape, and stacked together. 

If you are a common consumer or a large producer of plastic plant pot waste and want the pots recycled, you should know that black pots are usually not recycled and consider using other recyclable colors.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the founder of and its lead content writer. He created the website in 2022 as a resource for horticulture lovers and beginners alike, compiling all the gardening tips he discovered over the years. Alex has a passion for caring for plants, turning backyards into feel-good places, and sharing his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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