Putting the ‘green’ in green industry

Departments - Native tongue

All nurseries can be better stewards by cutting down plastic waste and looking for alternative energy sources.

Reducing plastic waste is one of many steps needed to make the green indsutry more ‘green.’
Nursery Management Staff

I know we can be a better green industry. Does the amount of single-use plastic our industry uses bother you? Have you ever been to a large landscaping firm and seen a mountain of assorted empty pots? In the spring, as you rip a huge amount of single-use overwinter film off your cold frames, do you wonder if it really gets recycled or ends up in the landfill? Have you looked for alternatives for any of this plastic at all? Does trucking plants all over the country make ecological sense? What about electricity usage? I bet many of you have thought about these issues. Perhaps it is time we examine more of our practices looking for ideas and solutions to reduce our carbon footprint and plastic use, and truly be green.

It is amazing how many different designs there are in plain plastic pots. Carolina Native tried desperately to recycle when we were a young company. We travelled to landscaper yards, spent a lot of time sorting through big piles of pots and allowed landscape clients to return pots, too. I know it saved us some money when things were tight. But the discrepancy in appearance was unacceptable for garden centers. We worried about cleanliness. Plus, branded pots weren’t reusable and ended up in the trash. Consequently, we were forced to stop the program. What can we do?

Carolina Native is currently looking and experimenting with some alternatives. I hope that you will look at alternatives, too. We are now using containers that are made from recycled plastic. While these may end up in the landfill, at least it is a step in the right direction. In our research, we discovered a company examining a compound that can replace plastic and is biodegradable. Tennessee-based Mobius is in the process of developing a product to replace plastic with the nursery and greenhouse industry in mind. We have talked to these guys and look forward to watching their progress.

We are very excited to do a large test this year using pots that are completely compostable and biodegradable. Many of us have bought vegetable starts that come in a fiber-based pot and plant them directly into the garden. We will experiment with some liner and 1-gallon biodegradables for our native azaleas. We plan on finishing the liner and 1-gallon azaleas then planting them directly into larger pots next spring. If the quality of the plants meets our high standards and transplanting working well, it will save time and money. We will also try some perennials and grasses in these same pots. In talking to a couple of our best landscaping clients, they are anxious to try these, too. Not having plastic waste plus the time savings is very attractive. We will see.

Does anyone like to pull white plastic over cold frames? In our area, no one will take it for recycling purposes. Sometimes I doubt it gets recycled even by those that say they do, especially since China now refuses to take our plastic waste. We reuse our plastic for three years. How do we do it? We use wiggle wire track around every house to eliminate the use of webbing, wood, staples, screws and nails. We try to eliminate all punctures and holes. We remove, roll up, label and store it. Plus, we have two sizes of cold frames purposely, so we downsize pieces of plastic as needed. So now we only order plastic for a third of our cold frames annually. Would that save you some money, too?

Sometimes I feel like we have a golf cart racetrack around here. It seems like a constant drone. We have started to replace our gas carts with electric, which saves us money with no more gas engines to maintain. Having a quieter vehicle is also nice. I don’t know if we can afford an electric truck, but no longer buying diesel and diesel exhaust fluid would be nice. We will examine electric for all our equipment as it becomes available. Our new electric blowers are great. Can you imagine your neighborhood without the squeal of obnoxious gas lawn equipment in the summer?

Did you read the article about the new solar panels installed at Decker’s Nursery? (nurserymag.com/article/deckers-nursery-solar-power)

I spoke with Brian Decker at MANTS about it. To say he is enthusiastic about it is an understatement, and the money he saves was unbelievable. He’d do more but the local electric company is holding him back. His story is wonderful, check it out.

I think our industry can make some great progress becoming the green industry we believe we are by examining our practices, eliminating plastic where we can and as soon as possible and looking at alternative energies. There are many possibilities for those willing to try, and it will keep getting better. Join us.

Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GIE Media, Inc.

Bill Jones is president of Carolina Native Nursery in Burnsville, North Carolina, a specialty grower of native shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses. www.carolinanativenursery.com