Encouraging reuse of plant pots and trays

Plant pots and trays are perhaps the most visible plastic waste within horticulture. Since 2003 we have strongly encouraged their recycling and reuse across our Gardens, Shows and retail centres.

Rather than buying new plastic plant trays - or throwing old ones away - donate them to us the next time you visit and we'll make them available for others to take home, for free.

Reducing our plastic packaging

We have moved to buying products in bulk to reduce wrapping and reuse the packaging where we can.

Our magazines and marketing material are currently sent to members in a lightweight recyclable plastic (more information). However, after feedback from members suggested that these are not always accepted at council recycling centres, we are currently exploring biodegradable alternatives.

Providing paper bags at our gift shops

We use paper bags in the gift shops at our Gardens and - as these can split when wet -  we use recycled plastic bags in our plant centres. We also ask customers and visitors to bring their own bags for purchases made at our Shows and Gardens. 

Banning plastic straws at our Shows and the RHS Garden Wisley restaurant

In 2018 we made the decision to ban plastic straws at our all our main Shows – Cardiff, Chelsea, Chatsworth, Hampton and Tatton. Likewise, at Wisley, our flagship garden, we have swapped plastic straws for paper and rolled out the use of biodegradable plates, cups and cutlery made from corn starch – a green alternative to polystyrene. We are now looking to do the same at the remainder of our Gardens.

Looking to the future

To understand how we can do even better on our use of plastics we have launched an internal review. We hope to be able to share more details later in the year. We will also continue working with partners from the gardening industry - as part of the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group – to help drive industry-wide change.

We have also undertaken trials in our Gardens and funded research into alternatives to plastics but practical usability and production issues remain key stumbling blocks to their introduction and something that requires more research.


The Garden magazine

When mailing The Garden magazine each month we currently use a light-polyethylene wrapper - that is recyclable but not biodegradable. We are considering a move to a 100% biodegradable, starch-based material along with the possibility of paper envelopes or paper wrap, each of which comes with challenges. 

Biodegradable material does not have the tensile strength of our current wrapper. We carried out a mailing trial of The Garden in March 2018 using this material, but unfortunately, a number of copies did not arrive intact at the end address. We are concerned this material would not be strong or durable enough when mailing out larger issues of The Garden and the annual Members’ Handbook, so we are still looking into this option.

The weight of the wrapping will inevitably increase, and we anticipate a negative impact on annual mailing weight (transport / carbon etc) as a result. Biodegradable material also doesn't have the shelf life of our current material, so we would need multiple deliveries of the polywrap, again having a detrimental effect on carbon emissions. 

When we consider the use of paper envelopes or paper wrap, the process would result in an additional seven tonnes of mail per annum. Some of our members believe we should be reducing our use of paper so we have to think this through carefully.

We are committed to finding a better alternative to our current mailing material and will be carrying out a trial mailing of another RHS publication, The Orchid Review, using a paper wrap in August 2018 which will give us valuable insight into feasibility of a change.

Published: 23 February 2018 
Updated: 30 July 2018

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