We hope you are committed to reducing, reusing, and recycling year-round! In 2019, the global risk landscape analyzer Verisk Maplecroft identified America as the biggest contributor to the world waste problem. America contributes 12% of the world’s Municipal Solid Waste even though it makes up only 5% of the world’s population. Meanwhile, we recycle just 35% of our waste…

Of course, the responsibility to reduce waste rests not only on the consumer but on corporations as well. Here at Down to Earth, protecting the environment is an integral part of our philosophy. We make a concerted effort to minimize any waste generated during our manufacturing process. We reuse or recycle all our corrugated cardboard, and sort, condense and send all of our plastic shrink wrap for recycling. The totes our bulk materials are packaged in are also made of recycled plastic, and we collect them and send them back for further recycling as well.

We’ve also made it easy for you to be part of the recycling process as well. Since 1997, we’ve packaged our fertilizers in 100% recycled, unbleached paperboard boxes that are printed with plant-based inks. The box is so completely recyclable that it can be shredded and added to your compost pile. The plastic bag inside can be rinsed off and reused. We’ve put together a list of other things you can do in your garden and home this year to reduce and reuse waste!

Get Creative With Your Planters

One of the best ways to reduce waste is to reduce your consumption. You don’t need to buy new raised beds, planters, poly-pots, tools, or greenhouses. Instead, shop your local thrift stores and your trash and get creative! This can work on any scale of gardening, whether you are growing out of your yard or your apartment balcony.

Small takeout or bakery containers, paper cups, cardboard toilet paper rolls, and even eggshells can become starter pots for your seedlings. The lidded containers are especially nice since they provide a greenhouse-like environment for your seedlings. If you use unwaxed cups, you can add them to your compost or yard waste bin afterward. With eggshells and cardboard toilet paper rolls, you can plant them directly in the ground. Just make sure to crack the bottom of the shell a little first. This is doubly good for you since you won’t have to disturb your seedlings’ delicate roots.

Are you growing in containers in your apartment or yard? As long as you put make drainage in the bottom, a multitude of items can be upcycled into planters. Punch holes in kitty litter buckets, old wooden drawers, or plastic tote bins, and plant away. Put unwearable old shoes to good use as tiny planters or decorative post

A succulent potted in an old shoe

For bigger endeavors in the garden, it might be tempting to turn old tires into a raised bed. However, tires contain aluminum, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and sulfur, as well as a high level of zinc. They also contain plasticizers and accelerators and can absorb heavy metals like lead. These toxic substances leech out as the tires break down and contaminate the water and soil around them. Since these contaminants could be absorbed through the skin, consumed, or inhaled, it is best to nix the tires for other recycled materials.

Bathtubs, bookshelves, dressers without drawers, and anything else that can hold soil could become your next raised planter. Don’t be put off by the first look of your upcycled planters! You can paint anything! You can also use recycled materials like brick or stone, or even make a raised bed without a border, by simply mounding up the soil.

Tulips planted in a bathtub

On a similar note, you can use bottles and jugs cut in half as miniature cloches to protect your plants from cold, or to create the perfect environment for seedlings. The plastic bags from our fertilizer boxes also work well for seedlings or propagating plants like callisia repens, Tradescantia, or string of turtles. Just add a little bit of soil to the bag, place the clippings in, moisten with a spray bottle, close the bag with a twist tie and place it in a sunny window. Your cutting should root in a few weeks and be ready for transplanting.

Just think creatively before purchasing new equipment or throwing anything away, and you’ll find you have more than you thought! You’ll reduce your waste and consumption in no time.

'Recycle' Your Soil

One of the most impactful things you can ‘recycle’ in your garden is the soil!

“Our most significant non-renewable geo-resource is productive land and fertile soil. Each year, an estimated 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost due to erosion. That’s 3.4 tonnes lost every year for every person on the planet.”2

You don’t need to buy new soil every year, even if you are growing in containers. The soil is alive; one handful contains more microorganisms than there are people living on the earth!2 If you act as a good steward, you can conserve this microbial life indefinitely and reduce your consumption of this valuable resource. The microbes in the soil help make nutrients more available to plants, kind of like the probiotics in our own digestive systems. For soil longevity, you need to ‘feed the soil’ rather than the plant.

If you are gardening in containers, you can amend your soil before replanting. You’ll want to replenish the organic material in the soil with compost, manure, coconut coir or fiber, or various types of mulches. You can also add some inorganic materials like perlite or sand. This will improve the drainage and aeration of the soil, making it a friendly environment for critters and your plants! It’s good to add a slow-release organic fertilizer that will feed the organisms in the soil. You can choose this fertilizer based on what you will be growing or simply use a balanced fertilizer. We recommend our Bio-live 5-4-2 since it also contains beneficial microbes and mycorrhizal fungi. Finally, we recommend adding a trace mineral resource, such as our Azomite, to help meet plant nutritional needs.

For raised beds and in-ground gardening, cover crops are your friends! After your Summer season plants have met their end, plant your cover crops to protect the bed during the Fall and Winter seasons. Planting legumes, grasses, or other cover crops will prevent erosion, add organic matter and carbon to the soil, and be an excellent nitrogen source for future plants. Make sure to choose your cover crops based on your garden’s needs. Selecting a crop with a deeper root, like winter rye, will help aerate the soil. Still, it will be more challenging to turn into the ground and harsher on the soil structure. Choosing a gentler crop like Red clover is compatible with no-till gardening and will only require you to disturb the very top layer of soil!

We amended some soil from our container garden with Seacoast Compost, Bio-Live 5-4-2, and Azomite
Red Clover is often used as a cover crop

Using these methods, you can do your part to reduce soil waste in your garden! Make sure not to lose track of what you planted where in order to rotate your crops. Crop rotation can protect crops like alliums from pests and the buildup of pathogens in the soil.

You can read more about cover crops in our guide here.

Waste No Water, Nor Plant

Two other things not to let go to waste in your garden? Plants and water. Clean water is a non-renewable resource! Keeping waterways clean and conserving water during times of drought (particularly the Summer, when you will need it the most in your garden) is essential to our health.

As mentioned above, improving your soil health and structure will already help conserve water. Still, there are other steps you can take! Mulching will help retain moisture in your soil, reducing your need for water. You can also install a drip irrigation system to water plants more efficiently by delivering water directly to the roots, eliminating runoff and evaporation loss. Depending on local regulations, you could consider using a rain barrel to collect runoff from your roof.

Perennials can become the powerhouses of your garden. They can produce for multiple years, improve soil structure by developing expansive root systems, and reduce your need to buy starts and seeds. As we said, one of the best ways to reduce waste is to reduce your consumption. Choose asparagus, rhubarb, chives, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, groundnuts, ostrich fern, and many others for years of yield.

A drip irrigation system gently and efficiently waters a small plant
Ostrich ferns sprout tender edible fiddleheads in the Spring

Some perennials are treated as annuals for ease of gardening or prevention of diseases, such as potatoes, peppers, and kale. If you are able, overwinter your perennial garden plants by bringing them indoors, rather than treating them as an annual. Overwintering your peppers by bringing them indoors for the winter or putting a cold frame around them can increase their subsequent yields and allow them to establish more robust root systems. This will also reduce the number of seeds, starts, and starter equipment you buy next season, reducing your consumption and waste.

You can also recycle annuals in your compost pile!

We hope that these tips are useful to your recycling efforts! No one is perfect, but National Recycling Day provides us with a reminder to reflect on our recycling habits and make efforts to reduce our consumption and waste, reuse what we have on hand, and recycle everything else.  Luckily, the organisms in our soil are already superstar recyclers of nutrients and plant matter, and working in collaboration with them is an excellent way to make environmental change for the better.

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References:

  1. Bradley, Lucy. “There Are Better Options than Using Tires in the Garden.” NC State Extension News, February 22, 2019. https://gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/2019/02/there-are-better-options-than-using-tires-in-the-garden/.
  2. “Soil Fertility and Erosion.” Weltagrarbericht. Accessed November 15, 2021. https://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/soil-fertility-and-erosion.html.

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