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Garden Plastics - Frankton's

Garden Plastics

Plastic is perhaps the most incredible material known to man.

We have become so used to the benefits it offers that finding an alternative is more difficult than we realise; it's convenient, predictable, waterproof, feathery light, strong and low cost. These are just some of the reasons why the use of plastic continues in our everyday life.

What may seem like an instinctive choice to replace certain plastics often introduces unforeseen issues. Consider, for instance, the use of compostable bags made from starch in place of single use plastics. If the product contained inside it becomes moist and the bag encounters warm air, then the conditions for decomposition will have been met and the bag does as expected - it naturally breaks down. Not good for the product inside. For this solution to work, the product would have to spend as little time in the bag as possible, demanding a big shift in the way that manufactured products are packaged. Traditionally, packaging takes place directly after production, but use of compostable plastic means it will have to be packed immediately prior to dispatch - manufacturing is just not geared that way, for now.

It is very unlikely that plastics are going to disappear for ever, it's just too useful. Even if we were to stop all production tomorrow, our oceans and rivers, streets and countryside will still be full of evidence of past production. A shift towards collecting, processing and re-using this waste presents us with an opportunity to use plastic sustainably. Frankton's Sustainability labels highlight "Responsible" products, including those made from recycled materials.

Accepting that plastics will be part of our lives doesn't mean accepting the status quo. Single use and short life plastics must be reduced and we can all make choices that help achieve this goal. At Frankton's, we're committed to excluding these plastics from our offerings, they do not fit with our sustainability commitment.

ic: Unrecyclable Garden PotsThis doesn't mean that choosing a non-plastic alternative is always better for the environment. One of the benefits of plastic is low weight. Consider the impact of transporting a heavier alternative, is the footprint being shifted to another industry? There are more aspects to sustainability than meets the eye.

When used for appropriate applications, one surprisingly sustainable plastic product is polystyrene. Made in to a foam material, called expanded polystyrene, or EPS, the product is made from more than 95% air. If we consider for a moment that there were two seed trays of the same size, side by side, the one made from plastic would contain 20 times more plastic than the same polystyrene tray next to it.

Durability is one of the main points that makes polystyrene seed trays sustainable. With most garden plastic products such as seed trays, their strength lies in being a monocoque structure - the rigidity and strength comes from the product as a whole. Once there is a break in part of the structure, the integrity is lost and the product rendered useless. Small cracks will propagate quickly, making low quality plastic seed trays disposable and poor for sustainability.

Polystyrene seed trays are not subject to the same problems. Expanded polystyrene maintains structural integrity even if part of the tray breaks off. If a few seed cells are broken off then there is no reason to throw away the tray. The remainder remain useable and strong. You can simply tidy the tray with a sharp knife or a saw.

Being made from 95% air, the insulation properties of polystyrene seed trays protect your seedlings at their most critical time of growth. They help to steady temperature changes and limit the effect of temperature extremes. This helps to promote good seed germination.

In conclusion

Totally natural products are not always as sustainable as one imagines, and often do not have the benefits we have become accustomed to. Sometimes the most suitable alternative product can be the one that seems the least likely. At Frankton's, we are taking steps to sustainability with a broad understanding of the options.

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