Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Get the new year off to a flying start with a new greener approach to the garden, says Naomi Slade

Reduce reuse recycle

by Liz Potter |

Concern for the environment is high on the agenda at the moment and, from air and water pol-lution to overconsumption and degradation of habitat, there seems to be no part of our world that is safe from human activities.

Despite this, the challenges of the past two years have inspired people to spend more time tending their plot and encouraging wildlife. Gardeners are often already inclined towards greener living, and evidence suggests many of us are changing our habits for the better.

With sustainability tipped to be a big trend for Christmas and beyond, we all need to do our bit for the planet, and where better for green living to begin than at home?

Old garden tools have been turned into a stylish new gate
Old garden tools have been turned into a stylish new gate


To limit our footprint on the planet, we need to reduce our consumption and waste. In many ways this is a state of mind, a case of breaking bad habits and also being aware of sneaky sales tactics to get us to buy more.

New and shiny things are lovely, but are they really necessary? Do we need new pruning tools, or is a few minutes spent sharpening, oiling and changing the old blades equally as effective and a lot more sustainable? And maybe we should be honest in the face of temptation: buying just one pack of bedding plants – despite the special offer – when, deep down, we know we don’t have space and they’re doomed to languish and die.

The two largest, most conspicuous areas of consumption in the garden are peat and plastic. Peat bogs are biodiverse habitats that sequester a huge amount of carbon and they regenerate painfully slowly when damaged – there’s no such thing as sustainable peat extraction. Produc-ers have been tardy in reducing and eliminating peat from composts, so scrutinise packaging for peat content and look for peat-free products, such as those from Melcourt and Dalefoot (we have 10 bags of compost to win on p101!). Asking nurseries to stock peat-free composts can help effect change.

Try to find plastic-free options for pots and containers. Buy bareroot trees and shrubs in winter when they’re dormant, while wallflowers, bulbs and perennials for autumn planting often ar-rive wrapped in paper and recyclable packaging.

A washing machine drum makes a shiny steel planter
A washing machine drum makes a shiny steel planter


Minimise waste the old-fashioned way, by reusing things over and over again. From tools to containers to compost, we can extend the functional life of an item by refreshing and caring for it, and hanging onto it for as long as possible.

Plastic pots, especially black ones, can be hard to recycle so use and reuse them as many times as you can. It’s not always necessary to wash them, but if disease is a concern, scrub in a buck-et of water with a dash of biodegradable washing up liquid. As sunlight will degrade the plastic and hasten their demise, stack them in a dark place until needed.

If you have more pots that you can use, give them away to a good home; approach resource-poor school gardening clubs, which may take surplus plants or seeds as well, or ask your local nursery or garden centre if it has a drop-off point.

Recycle chipped tea cups into pretty bird feeders
Recycle chipped tea cups into pretty bird feeders

Plastic bottles are ubiquitous but cut in half, can be employed in a number of ways in the gar-den. Cut the bottom off and push the neck into the soil to deliver water directly to the roots – ideal for containers and thirsty crops such as courgettes and squash. Alternatively, use one as a temporary cloche, keeping temperatures high and pests at bay. The lids of larger bottles make useful cane-toppers, too.

Sow seeds in biodegradable pots made from toilet roll inners, cartons or newspaper, or punch holes in the bottom of plastic tubs and fill them with herbs and salad leaves for the season.

Pursue the cult of the repurposed container to discover lots of striking and characterful new features. Tin cans are versatile and durable, either allowed to rust or touched up with a dab of paint.

A stack of car tyres will make a deep bed, good for growing vegetables or small trees, even on concrete. Washing machine drums, dustbins or welly boots can all live again as cheerful plant-ers, or go quirky with a disused bath or toilet full of beans and blooms, or a bedding display in hanging handbags!


Recycling is key to a greener way of gardening and this is the process by which items are not just reused, but become the raw materials for something new. And while it may take energy – or at least time – to take an old item, craft it into something fresh and give it a new lease of life, it’s infinitely preferable to throwing things away.

With a little creativity, it’s easy to recycle all sorts into the garden. Scrumpers and skip-divers can go large, foraging materials like old windows, floorboards and pallets (ask first!), to make everything from plant-theatre shelving to coldframes, raised beds and furniture, bug hotels and bird boxes.

But it’s just as possible for smaller, everyday items to live again. A string of old CDs as a bird scarer is tried and tested, but creating a sparkling windmill from a drinks can or pop bottle is just as effective and arguably more attractive.

Get crafty and fashion ornaments and art from repurposed rubbish. Bespoke paving can be made from glass beads, buttons or broken ceramics; bird feeders can be made from pretty, chipped teacups; windchimes can be made from old cutlery. Even recycling leaves and green waste into compost helps!

The fact we are all recycling more is a good thing, and there’s a much greater awareness of the lifecycle of raw materials. But it’s important to consider the process in context. Recycling, or making new products from pre-used materials is only part of the story. There also has to be a market for recycled products to keep the cycle moving in a positive way. So when buying new, look out for items that have been made from recycled materials – metal, glass, paper, plastic, even reclaimed wood. Buying these, rather than items that have been made from virgin re-sources, also strengthens the economic argument for recycling, and is another small act of care for the planet we live on.

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us