Pot recycle is here


Be part of Mitre 10’s innovative Pot Recycle programme.

New Zealand’s mounting plastic waste problem is not new news. Pictures of the bales of waste packaging and mountains of recycling stacking up at collection centres are all too familiar for most of us. 

If you’re a keen gardener or indoor plant lover (and truthfully, who’s not these days?!) you’ll be all too familiar with the plastic pots they’re sold in. They’re probably stacking up in the garage, leaving you wondering why the local council doesn’t accept them in curbside recycling. 

Most plant and seedling pots are made of polypropylene, plastic ID 5, which is actually a high-value material that mostly goes to waste. It’s a robust plastic that can be recycled over and over, but because garden pots are usually contaminated with soil and dirt, the sad reality is they often end up in landfills. Worse, contamination can cause entire truckloads of mixed recycling to be landfilled because it’s too hard to sort and clean. 

The renaissance in gardening since Covid is hugely positive for our wellbeing and connection to and appreciation of nature. However, it also means we’re using more plastic packaging to get those delicate seedlings and plants home. 

The question of what to do with all that plastic is one that Julie Roberts, sustainability manager for Mitre 10, has been working to solve since she joined the locally owned co-operative in 2019. Having worked in sustainability for almost 20 years, Roberts knew the enormity of the mission, but she was determined.

She spent 18 months working through potential solutions and has been collaborating with stores, with supply partner Zealandia Horticulture and with industry partners Pact Group and Recycling Group to find a practical, sustainable solution to an unsustainable problem.

That solution is Pot Recycle, Mitre 10’s new “closed-loop” programme, which diverts plant and seedling pots from landfills and reduces the amount of new plastic used to make them. Following a successful trial in Mitre 10 MEGA stores in New Plymouth, Tauranga and Henderson, there are now Pot Recycle crates in all 84 Mitre 10 and Mitre 10 MEGA stores. 

You just need to give your old pots a quick wash to remove the dirt and drop them in the crate at your local store – job done. The pots are shredded and melted into the resin by Recycling Group and Pact Group, then Zealandia Horticulture remoulds the resin into new pots and fills them again.

Roberts says she’s often asked why the pots can’t simply be washed and reused – a less energy-intensive option.

The answer is twofold. “Firstly, the biosecurity risk is unacceptable. Reusing pots has the potential risk of spreading Myrtle Rust, phytophthora and other plant diseases. Nobody wants that. Secondly, scale – the size of the New Zealand market for plants and seedlings is such that it can’t be served with re-used pots alone. Also, not all pots are made of the same plastic and the plastic-type is often unidentifiable. Mitre 10 is working closely with all its suppliers to encourage them to use identifiable plastics only,” she says.

“As a co-operative, we’re working to make a real, sustainable impact on the environment, our operations and the communities we are part of. Sustainability is definitely a journey, but if we can work together, those small changes will add up to big impacts,” she says.

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