Pots, Recycled Pots, Alternative Pots: The options of the nursery industry

Maria Bampasidou, Fields, Jeb S.

Staff Report No. 2022—21

The Nursery Industry encompasses more than just flowers, houseplants and landscaping plants, shrubs, and trees. The U.S. floriculture industry products include bedding plants, garden plants, flowers and foliage in pots, propagations, cut flowers, and cut cultivated greens. The nursery industry is part of the so-called horticulture green industry, which is comprised of wholesale nursery, greenhouse, and turfgrass sod producers, landscape design, construction and maintenance firms, and wholesale and retail distribution firms such as garden centers, home stores, mass merchandisers with lawn/garden departments, brokers and re-wholesale distribution centers, and allied trades suppliers of inputs to the industry.

The nursery industry plays a vital role in the economy; based on ‘Economic contributions of the Green industry in the US 2018’ report the industry’s Gross Domestic Product of the total value-added was evaluated at $190.98 billion (Bn). The industry employed 1,599,662 full-time and part-time people and contributed $121.55 Bn in labor incomes. In terms of employment greenhouse, nursery and floriculture production accounted for 217,574 jobs and $28.69 Bn. Louisiana’s contributions were $1,158 million in labor income, $1,860 million in value added and $3,338 million in output.

Louisiana’s nursery industry is strong, however, there are a few concerns regarding the economic sustainability of the industry. The Green Industry requires an extensive number of resources including nonrenewable and petroleum-based products in their pesticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, greenhouse heating, greenhouse glazing, and product packages for the best quality crop every single season. This report focuses on the use of plastic nursery pots or containers for production.


The majority of nurseries and plant production operations use plastic pots for growing and selling their products. Plastic pots are used for nearly every single plant produced. These are normally referring to the individual containers but can be other designs too. Plastic can be used for trays, cell packs, and flats to hold plants that are usually not large themselves but are made in very large amounts. These sizeable quantities require great amounts of plastic containers to be used which are potentially discarded after use. Unlike many agricultural sectors, nurseries grow 100’s to 1000’s of taxa each year, all with varied growing requirements. Moreover, ever-changing marketability requires nurseries to adjust the taxa and cultivars they produce yearly.

Nurseries often use plastics that cannot be recycled that are usually thrown away by their consumers and landscapers, creating a disposal issue for the industry. These non-recyclable plastics are sometimes referred to as PP plastic or virgin plastic. Problems and concerns with the use of plastic include:

  • Use on non-renewable resources for production
  • Decomposition
  • Disposal practices
  • Environmental impact like soil contamination
  • Health risks

What is the alternative? Recycling pots and alternative pots could help combat this plastic usage issue.

Recycled Pots

Recycling excess, unused plastic or returned containers is one of the sustainable practices employed by nurseries. However, there are several challenges associated with it.


Contamination from pesticides, fertilizers, soil, and/or rooting media can be an issue for recycling and reusing plastic pots. which can transfer disease to new the plant used.

Recycling centers need to receive clean materials to safely process them. Soils may contain various materials that are difficult to wash completely out and other chemicals used to treat plant problems can linger on plastic. Garbage separation issues due to the black color of most plastic pots. Most nursery pots are black colored, and it may be difficult for the centers NIR scanners they use to be able to identify them. This causes viable plastic to be wasted and most likely never used again. Sometimes the limitations of what recycling centers can do and how plastic is manufactured sets back progress. Centers may only be able to be recycled once or twice depending on the type of plastic. Of course, there are also types of plastic that may not be able to be recycled at all.

Reuse of plastic pots requires sanitization to avoid contamination and transfer disease to new plants.

UV light degradation

Plastic may also not be the most durable as sun exposure can cause the pot to morph. UV light degradation by the sun can break the pots apart. Nursery pots are often exposed to copious amounts of light and need to be able to handle that for long-term.

Cost of recycling

A common challenge associated with recycling is the cost of energy. The business hurdles for adoption of sustainable practices also need to be considered. Recycling may not even be an option for some nurseries because of where they are located. Limited access to recycling centers and transportation of material are some examples. In addition, the scale of operation can be deterring from adopting recycling systems; volume of production and availability of a safe area located away from working employees, customers and other plants.

Alternative Pots

Alternative pots may be a future option for sustainable plant production. A search in related literature revealed the following options for alternative containers:

Types of alternative containers include:

  • Bioplastic
  • Coir
  • Cow manure
  • Peat
  • Processed poultry feathers
  • Pineapple shells
  • Recycled paper
  • Rice halls
  • Straw

However, there are a few hurdles to overcome before that can happen. Few options currently exist on the market for nurseries to obtain for commercial use. There is not enough information for producers and not many scientific studies have been done on their quality and long-term usage. Owners may have to compromise on their pot quality. Alternative pots may not be as durable as plastic pots are. They may also be more expensive than plastic pots. Owners will have to decide if these drawbacks are worth it for their business.

Alternative pots have some improving before they can compete with plastic pots in the market.

For More Information

Brumfield, R. G., et al. "Analysis of economic and social costs of growing petunia× hybrida in a greenhouse production system using alternative containers." HortScience 53.8 (2018): 1179-1185.

Brumfield, R. G., et al. "Economics of utilizing alternative containers in ornamental crop production systems." HortTechnology 25.1 (2015): 17-25.

Ellison, B., B. Kirwan, and A. Nepal. Consumers' Willingness to Pay for Bioplastic Plant Containers: An Experimental Auction Approach. No. 330-2016-13409. 2015.

Evans, M. R., and David L. Hensley. "Plant growth in plastic, peat, and processed poultry feather fiber growing containers." HortScience 39.5 (2004): 1012-1014.

Hall C.R., A.W. Hodges, H. Katchatryan, and M.A. Palma (2020) “Economic Contributions of the Green Industry in the United States in 2018” J. Environ. Hort. 38(3):73–79.

Harris, B.A., W. J. Florkowski, and S. V. Pennisi. "Horticulture industry adoption of biodegradable containers." HortTechnology 30.3 (2020): 372-384.

Jirapornvaree, I., T. Suppadit, and A. Popan. "Use of pineapple waste for production of decomposable pots." International Journal of Recycling of Organic Waste in Agriculture 6.4 (2017): 345-350.

Nambuthiri, S., et al. "Moving toward sustainability with alternative containers for greenhouse and nursery crop production: A review and research update." HortTechnology 25.1 (2015): 8-16.

Author Information:

Gabrielle Bellelo, LSU student, Plant & Soil Systems Major, Baton Rouge, La.

Maria Bampasidou, Assistant Professor, Agricultural Economics & Agribusiness Department, LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, La. Tel: 225-578-2367, Email: mbampasidou@agcenter.lsu.edu

Jeb Fields, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, LSU AgCenter, Hammond, La. Email: jfields@agcenter.lsu.edu

Visit our website: www.LSUAgCenter.com

3/29/2022 1:47:22 PM
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