With the effects of climate change happening all around us, it’s getting hard to ignore or push aside the consequences of the amount of pollution we create.
In late 2020, the Government of Canada announced the next steps in our mission to be plastic-free as of 2030. It’s been a slow process, but it’s forcing us to consider more sustainable methods of production and packaging. Luckily for us, technology is advancing, funds are being put into reusable materials, and we have online platforms to share our ways of reducing plastic waste. Now more than ever, we can work together to make the most of our resources!
This year for plastic-free July, Canadian Organic Growers sent out a survey to discover ways that farmers and gardeners are reducing their plastic waste and creatively reusing their containers—and we aren’t just going to keep those tips to ourselves! Thanks to all the people who replied. Here’s a summary of the responses and suggestions we received:
Packaging: How do you package your vegetables at the farmers’ market or in your CSA boxes to avoid excessive packaging?
- Use Rubbermaid bins: They’re very sturdy, last a very long time, and moisture control.
- Encourage regular customers to bring their own reusable bags, containers or bins to reduce using plastic bags for greens.
- Use resealable bags: In the hope of encouraging customers to reuse them.
- Use compostable bags (made from corn): Still relatively cheap and sturdy, but won’t take 1,000 years to degrade like its plastic counterpart, and won’t leave harmful microplastics.
- As much as possible, offer vegetables that can be unpackaged (e.g., carrots, beets, eggplants).
Seedling containers: What do you use as alternatives to reduce the use of single-use plastic pots, cell packs and trays?
- Sturdy reusable plastic containers
- Rigid plastics that’ll likely last our lifetime
- Cowpots: biodegradable, sturdy, lightweight, plantable
- Paperpot cells
- Soil blocks
- Wooden trays
- Used plastic containers that would normally be thrown away (such as yogurt and mushroom containers) and asking friends and family to save these plastic containers for my future use
Greenhouse plastic: How do you re-use and increase the lifespan of greenhouse plastic?
- We have a new high tunnel so we haven’t had to replace the plastic yet but we are careful with it so that it will last a long time. After the plastic is no longer useful for the high tunnel, we plan on using it as solarizing plastic as a no-till bed prep method.
- Greenhouse plastic is an issue – though we do reuse it after we remove it from the greenhouse. Glass seems perhaps prohibitive. I guess this is an issue overall – without plastic (cheap plastic) our whole food system would be much different.
- Take it down for the winter: removing it in November, and putting it back on in late March
- To reduce greenhouse plastic all together, I have one greenhouse made of recycled windows, and the other uses rigid polycarbonate which lasts for years.
Silage plastic: How do you reduce the use of, or re-use, silage plastic?
- We repair our silage plastic with UV-stable tape and try to be careful with it. We don’t leave it in the sun all season. We keep it indoors when not in use.
- I have only used them for breaking new ground. Otherwise they are stored away from the sun.
- I use layers of cardboard. It’s a good alternative to silage plastic for killing weeds.
Floating row covers: What do you do to extend the life of floating row covers?
- I try to store them clean, dry and away from rodents. They still don’t last long though.
- I am very careful with it and always put it away as soon as possible, clean and dry.
- Because of my wind conditions, I don’t let it float. I always secure it over hoops, and instead of weighing it down with sharp rocks, I use bags of rocks or other smooth substances. I shake it out and let it dry before storing it over the winter.
How else can organic farmers reduce their contribution to plastic waste? Please let us know.
- By not using thin black plastic ‘mulch.’ We mulch with straw instead.
- I found a biodegradable and compostable black mulch that is working very well on hot weather crops.
- Whenever you are thinking about buying something plastic for the farm, pause for a moment. Consider whether you really need that product. Look into alternatives. If you do buy, think about what you can do to prolong the life of the product and how you can repurpose it once it can no longer be used for its original purpose.
These are just a few of the ways that people in organic agriculture are making a difference towards a more sustainable system. While there really isn’t a perfect alternative for plastics, by making small changes to our methods of production and distribution, we can create long-lasting impacts to the health of our environment.
For packaging ideas or to know more about some of your options, check out Wellington Produce Packaging. If you’re interested in learning more about the problems with recycling here’s an article by NPR or if you are considering using biodegradables check out this BBC article.
To participate in future surveys, please subscribe to our weekly newsletter and social media platforms, and if you have other ideas to share about reducing plastic, please drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.