Recycling has come a long way from banana peels on the compost pile. Great garden products made with recycled materials make it easy to be a green gardener, even if you don’t compost your kitchen scraps.
Modern industrial designers working with post-consumer recycled plastic, paper and rubber are coming up with great new products all the time, including sharp-looking furniture, planters and chic shelters for the birds. These smart people make waste look wonderful.
“We wear our greenness on our sleeve,” says Miguel Nelson, co-founder of Woolly Pockets. “Our mission is to inspire the world to have more fun with plants. Being green is our foundation.”
Woolly Pockets products look like they’re made of thick felt, but the material is 100 percent recycled plastic bottles, re-manufactured into a durable, water- and UV-resistant fabric. The company’s most popular product, called the Wally, is a pocket with grommets on the back, made to attach to a wall (indoors or out). Woolly Pockets let you plant an herb garden on a sunny wall on the patio, or grow strawberries on the garden fence: It is vertical gardening. “You can cover an airport or just have one or two in your apartment,” Nelson says.
Durability is not an issue: The industrial fabric holds up in the weather and doesn’t degrade when it comes in contact with soil or moisture. “That’s one of the reasons why it is so important to keep plastic bottles out of the landfill,” Nelson says.
Loll Designs, which makes garden furniture from recycled milk jugs, shares this philosophy. In 2010, the company reclaimed almost 6 million pounds of HDPE plastic and turned it into weatherproof, no-maintenance garden furniture that is stylish and comfortable enough to use indoors.
“We’re trying to have fun with this,” says Greg Benson, a designer and the company’s CEO. A modern interpretation of the classic Adirondack chair is Loll’s most popular product, but Loll designers have reinvented deck chairs, rockers and porch swings, adding color and freshness. “You want to sit outside and use it,” Benson says, “but so often you are sitting in your house looking out — it should look sculptural out there.”
When Loll was founded in 2003, the only recycled plastic available for its products was postindustrial-use plastic, Benson says. “We couldn’t buy post-consumer recycled material,” he says, “but I wouldn’t use brand-new plastic. It’s not even an option.” Now the company cuts its furniture from 4-by-8-foot sheets of 100 percent post-consumer plastic. The sleek and sturdy four-slat Adirondack chair weighs 47 pounds and is made with the equivalent of 376 milk jugs. It’s all made in Loll’s manufacturing plant in Duluth, Minn., on Lake Superior.
The imprint of industry is more apparent on products made by Flat Tire Decor. The company makes garden trugs — shallow baskets — and planters from the indestructible sidewalls of truck tires, and garden totes and pads to kneel on from inner tubes. The industrial-chic material has an earthy authenticity; it looks smart in both sleek urban gardens and in the rough- and-tumble of a country farm. Baskets made of split sidewalls are Flat Tire’s most popular product, says Mike Hottinger, the company’s founder.
Flat Tire’s materials come from Chicago, and the company’s products are made in southeast Wisconsin by Easter Seals workers, contributing to what Hottinger calls “the trifecta of goodness: Our products are 100 percent recycled, they’re made in the U.S., and they’re made by people who get a great sense of self by working.”
It’s common for companies making green gardening products to have a corporate commitment to their community and the environment; Woolly Pockets has a school gardening program designed to help schools set up outdoor classrooms in which to teach kids the “pocket science” of growing vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers. Loll Designs works with polar explorer Will Steger and his foundation to support solutions to climate change, subscribes to Minnesota Power’s wind energy conservation program, and has implemented sustainable practices throughout the company.
Gardeners appreciate such commitments. “Gardeners get it right away. They understand green,” says Dave Allen, whose company, GreenBird, in Cincinnati, makes birdhouses out of laminated recycled paper. “When I am feeling my best,” Allen says, “I am out in the garden, and the birds and the bees are with me.” He designed his paper birdhouse to encourage the birds to hang around.
To appeal to children — and teachers — Allen developed lesson plans on birds, habitat, ecology and recycling. Even a durable paper birdhouse does not last forever, of course, but it can be recycled. “It’s just designed to last for one nesting season,” Allen says, “but what you learn will last a lifetime.”