Apartment Garden Blues (Blog): No Plastic Bins!

Potato plant plastic storage binIt's hard to find large, deep plant containers for apartment gardens that are cheap and lightweight. I purchased a plastic storage bin thinking I could use it each year to grow potatoes in. Plus, it was see-through, which meant that I could see root growth. How fun!

I poked holes in the bottom of the bin with a screwdriver. It took a while, but I did it. Then I filled with my new container with dirt and planted an old potato that sprouted. The potato plant grew wonderfully, but nearing the end of the season, the plastic bin would chip apart at the slightest touch. Too much direct sun, water and the weight of the potting soil pushing on its sides made it extremely brittle. And there was no easy way to get the dirt out without bits of plastic in it.

While the potatoes grew wonderfully and produced great tubers, I wondered if any of the plastic had leached into the potting soil. Had harmful chemicals entered the potato plant itself? Was I eating plastic?

I had the opportunity several years ago to interview oceanographer Captain Charles Moore, who was most well-known for his discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a giant floating garbage dump of degraded plastics and other debris. (Click here to larn more about ocean pollution.) One of my questions during the interview was about plants and plastics. Were plants able to take up chemicals from the plastics in our plant containers? If they did and we ate them, what did that mean for us? His answer was that we don't just don't know everything about plastic and its negative effects. His response didn't comfort me much, and I decided that I wouldn't use any plastic not made specifically for growing plants anymore, like my plastic storage bin experiment.

As far as lightweight plastic plant containers for our balcony gardens, I think they're safe. There's no research to indicate that plastic plant containers leach any harmful chemicals into the food we grow in our container gardens.



Alexandra Martin is a professional writer from Southern California who grows vegetables, herbs, lots of aloe vera and one giant Boston fern in her balcony garden. She also grows dracaena, pothos and English ivy indoors. She loves traveling and birdwatching in addition to gardening.

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