Plastic Pot Recycling Discontinued in St. Louis

Missouri Botanical Garden has been tracking and supporting plastic pot recycling issues and options for many years. We regret to report that public plastic pot recycling has been discontinued across our region, because the kinds of plastic used to manufacture garden containers now have a negative value in the recycling industry.

The program ceased in 2022, a reluctant decision by the established local recycling company that took over the program the Garden had run for many years. The recycling industry is an economic system. If there are no markets wanting to buy and use a recycled material, collection programs become unsustainable. The whole cycle must be working for recycling collection to function.

Why recycling works for some—but not all—plastic items:

  • The resins used to make plastic bottles, jugs and other household containers are generally higher-value materials, since they must meet food-grade standards. Your household recycling services accepts the range of items that have market value.
  • The mix of plastic resins used to make garden plastic pots, trays, flats, and cell-packs includes some of the lowest-value types of plastic. These resins are cheap to mold into containers durable enough to support commercial movement of plants, but not suitable to re-manufacture into a next generation of useful items.
  • Most garden plastic containers are black. The Material Recovery Facilities (recycling plants) that sort and process the items accepted in our home recycling systems use sophisticated optical scanning equipment to efficiently sort the huge volumes of mixed plastic items we send to them from our single-stream bins. Optical scan beams can’t “see” through black plastic, so this equipment can’t sort garden plastic items in the same way it sorts the kinds of plastic containers we can recycle at home.
  • Dirt remains in most garden pots even when we dump them out. Our recycling industry service providers ask us to put stuff into our bins that is “empty, rinsed and dry.” Soil residues will contaminate this material stream, endangering the recycling systems we rely on every day.

Dispose of garden plastic waste in your landfill trash

This includes all plastic pots, trays, hanging baskets, six-packs, and cell-packs. These items will be a contaminant in your household or drop-off center recycling bin, endangering the viability of these important collection systems!

If an item is not on the list of accepted materials for your community's recycling program, it should NOT go into your recycling bin. Visit for more details.

Alternatives to plastic pots

This seems like a logical focus, but it runs up against a tough situation. Plastic has become a reliable low-cost way to get live plants from growers to gardeners in top condition, through intensive handling and shipping systems. We need to think about the total costs of using a material that’s so “cheap” to make and use that its worth in recycling has dropped to a negative value. This is a key consideration for dealing with plastic pollution overall.

  • Plant production systems that don’t rely on plastic pots are working, though still on a limited scale. One of our region’s largest growers and plant wholesalers, Jost Greenhouses, has been using the Ellepot equipment and materials system, developed in Denmark, for several years. The Ellepot system produces plants in compostable wraps and reusable trays. Jost’s landscaping company customers experience a 30–40 percent efficiency in labor costs as they install these “potless” plants.
  • On the Garden’s Horticulture team, Greenhouse Manager Derek Lyle continually works to cut plastic pot waste. Evaluating the kinds of containers his team needs led to streamlining the variety of pots used, which also facilitates re-use of pots in our growing programs. These changes have cut supply costs, especially important as the cost of plastic products has increased, overall.
  • Some local garden centers are trying plastic pot alternatives. Ask your favorite locally-owned garden center about these options—especially as you select native plants to grow biodiversity in your yard! Multiple good reasons to “Buy Local” for your garden.
  • Research commissioned by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers (APLD) details general issues with plastic waste and specifics about garden plastics. Click here to read this report. The APLD initiative Healthy Pots – Healthy Planet is educating their national network of designers to address plastic waste issues. Pots Issue Research Paper

More that you can do:

  • Educate yourself about plastic production and waste issues. View Story of Plastic, a documentary directed and produced by Deia Schlosburg, an alumna of Washington University.
  • Be gentle with yourself as you deal with plastic issues. We know this is hard news to read. Our region had a Plastic Pot Recycling option for many years. Although the program persisted and evolved here, the fact that it has never been replicated elsewhere in the U.S. underscores the issues associated with this special waste stream, and with plastic waste overall. Consumer choices matter, but they are only one element in a complex set of issues.
  • Enjoy your garden and let Nature’s wisdom refresh and sustain you!

Staff of the Garden’s sustainability division continue to research and track these issues. The more we understand, the better we can contribute to sustainable solutions as opportunities arise, around our community and beyond. THANKS for your green efforts!