So, you’re planting in a sustainable, chemical-free way, yet your four-season garden seems to be begging for a lot of plastic, from seed cups to row covers. Plastic is handy and ubiquitous. But some plastics contain nasty chemicals, and all plastics take a lot of energy to create (not to mention a lot of petroleum) and a looooooong time to break down in landfills.
To use or not to use?
I say use plastic if:
It won’t be directly in the soil for a long time and it’s an okay kind of plastic. Here’s a quick rule of green thumb: Don’t put any plastic into your soil that you wouldn’t allow in your baby’s mouth. Why not? According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), the “use of plastics in cooking and food storage can carry health risks, especially when hormone-disrupting chemicals from some plastics leach into food and beverages.” Remember, soil is food for plants and plants are food for you. To choose a healthier plastic, whether it be for gardening, food storage, or your garden gnome, look at the recycling number on the container and remember this little ditty (courtesy of IATP): “With your food use 4, 5, 1 and 2. All the rest aren’t good for you.” For information, check out the IATP’s Smart Guide to Smart Plastics.
You can reuse it many times, as in the case of a polyethylene row cover. For rigorous thinking about the energy that goes into making plastic for the garden and why reusing it still makes sense, see “Appendix C: Do We Really Need Plastic?” in Eliot Coleman’s "The Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long." The bottom line: Until a better alternative comes along, some reusable plastics are still a good bet, energywise.
"Eat Where You Live"
From "Eat Where You Live", Copyright © 2008 by Lou Bendrick. Used by arrangement with The Mountaineers Books.