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How to Properly Recycle Plant Pots (And Upcycle Them!)

It’s fairly easy to recycle plant pots if your municipality is set up for it. And if not, there is still a way you can make sure that your plastic pots have a second life. Here’s everything you need to know about plant pot recycling.

how to properly recycle plant pots

Recycling has turned into quite a process. I find myself asking if things are recycled more often than not.

And with plastic being our top packaging method, we go through a lot of it. But as much as I wish we could toss everything into the recycling bin and give it a new life, that isn’t always the case.

Here’s how you can recycle plant pots and keep just a little bit more plastic out of the landfill!

plant pots recycling
Coloured plastic pots are still eligible for recycling at most facilities.

What Plastics Can You Recycle?

Containers that can be recycled will have a resin identification code on the plastic. This is depicted as a number surrounded by a triangle. This will tell you what type of plastic an item is made of.

While there are more common numbers for plastic, it doesn’t necessarily mean the item can be recycled. Typically, 1, 2, and 5 plastics are commonly recycled and allowed in most recycling programs.

Those with the number 3, 4, and 6 are somewhat specialty plastics and often need to be dropped off to be recycled as specialty facilities.

Check your plant pot to see if you can identify the number on it to help you determine if it’s recyclable or not.

Kale and cucumber seedlings growing under lights
These same rules apply to seedling trays and cell packs.

How to Recycle Plant Pots

Most plant pots are okay to go in the recycling, including the plastic trays used for seedlings, the plastic nursery containers and pots, and the cell packs smaller plants come in. 

Like any containers in your recycling bin, the containers must be clean. Check to make sure the pots are free of soil and plant debris. Give your containers a quick rinse with your garden hose before you place them in your recycling bin.

There may also be stipulations on the size of plant pots for recycling. For instance, where I live in British Columbia, the plant pots can be no larger than 25 litres.

When in doubt, look up your municipalities local recycling regulations. They’ll tell you directly if they recycle plant pots or will list out the types of plastics they accept.

empty plastic pots ready for planting
Larger pots may not be allowed in curbside recycling programs.

Where Can I Recycle My Plastic Plant Pots?

Most plastic plant pots can be placed directly in the curbside recycling program that most cities or municipalities have.

If you don’t have a curbside recycling program, you can take these containers to a local recycling depot. Most should offer a free drop-off.

My province, BC, has a great resource called Recyclepedia where it allows me to input what I’m recycling and where I am to help me find a drop off zone. Your city or municipality may have a similar resource. Just Google the recycling rules of your town or city!

If you have a large collection, many small nurseries will happily take them back and reuse them if they’re in good condition. Call your local nursery and ask if they’d accept plastic pots.

potted plants for fall in back of car with dog
While I grow many plants from seed, I still end up with some new plastic pots every gardening season. Don’t we all!

How to Upcycle Plant Pots

While recycling is a wonderful thing, the reality is that most of our plastic doesn’t make its way to a local recycling facility. Trying to reduce plastic usage and reuse it whenever possible are always great options.

Here are some ways that I have seen plastic pots being used:

  • Use them again for seed starting. The more you grow from seed, the more you need to reuse these plastic pots, and the less likely you are to buy plants in more plastic containers.
  • Fill up space in patio containers or raised beds. Rather than fill the base with expensive soil, flip plastic pots upside down. This works wonderfully if it is a very deep container or you’re working with shallow-rooted plants.
  • Cut off the bottom of the pot to make a watering halo.
  • Use it as a water reservoir, similar to an olla (as I mention in this post).
  • Use the pot as a planting guide to create a ready-made hole when repotting a new plant.
  • Paint the pots or cover them in fabric to make them more decorative to use inside.
  • Use larger pots with drainage holes to hold produce and rinse it with a garden hose
  • Make a squirrel or rat baffle by slipping a plastic pot upside down onto the pole of a bird feeder.
  • Cover a tender perennial with a large pot, filling it with dry leaves for insulation.
upcycling plastic plant pots into a bird feeder
Check out how I made this bird feeder out of old flower pots!

If you have any more clever uses for plastic pots, leave them in the comments below. Then I can add to the list for everyone to benefit from…and keep plastic out of the landfill!

More Handy FAQs to Know

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