Are You Ruining Your Organic Garden with Toxic Plastic?

Are you worried that you’re ruining your organic garden with toxic plastic supplies and tools? Learn how to choose safe flower pots, trays and hoses!


Are you worried that you're ruining your organic garden with plastic supplies and tools?  We hear this concern a lot.  And you’re right: it wouldn’t make sense to use toxic plastic and then expect to end up with untainted produce.

At first glance it seems pretty simple – just use the same rules as you would in choosing safer plastic food containers, right?  Turns out that the trick is determining what seedling trays, flower pots and garden hoses are actually made from. And that’s not so straightforward.

The Dirt on Planters

Repurposing food containers for gardening is pretty straightforward since most are labeled with recycling codes: stick with plastic numbers 2, 4, and 5.

Repurposing food containers for gardening is pretty straightforward since most are labeled with recycling codes: stick with plastic numbers 2, 4, and 5.Click To Tweet

As for buying new containers, there are quite a few possibilities out there.  Since not all of them are labeled, we've done the research for you and put together a quick reference list of typically non-toxic choices:

As with all plastic containers, be sure to confirm that they’re free of BPA-based colorants – or just make it easy on yourself and go with white.

Watch Out for Those Sneaky Little SeedlingsEgg Cartons Make Great Biodegradable Seedling Starters

It starts getting dicey when you look at seedling trays.  Most of the carrying trays that hold the inserts are made from polypropylene, which is good.  The problem is that the inserts or cells we've researched are usually made of flexible polystyrene (as you’d find in disposable utensils) or expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam).  Both polystyrene trays fall into the #6 plastics category, which should be avoided.

Give Paper Egg Cartons a Try!

If you're looking for a non-toxic, biodegradable seedling starter, try using paper egg cartons so you can plant them right in your garden without having to transfer the sprouts.

They're exactly the right size to plant seeds and to keep them indoors until they germinate. Once they've sprouted, simply separate each of the cups and pop them right into your garden!

NOTE: Don't forget to stay away from foam or hard plastic egg cartons though because they're usually made from polystyrene (#6 plastic) too.

Don't Taint Clean Water with a Toxic Hose

Your typical garden hose is made from the most toxic plastic currently in existence: PVC (vinyl). tested 21 different garden hoses and found phthalates (endocrine-disruptors), antimony and bromine (markers of flame retardants used in plastics) and lead.

Jeff Gearhart, research director at, said:

We know that these chemicals make it into plants. We just can't show a connection between hoses and chemicals showing up in a plant.

The safest way to ensure your garden doesn't end up tainted with toxic chemicals is to use a hose made specifically for drinking water. The best options we've found made from safer materials are listed below:

So it’s doable after all.  Just keep on researching those plastics!

  1. Styrofoam (capital S, registered trademark) is the blue, rigid foam for house insulation. It is not made into anything else. The triangles with numbers are to identify the plastic so it can be recycled properly. For example, plastic with no ID is trash because no one will know what is in it.

    1. You’re right that Dow Chemical owns the trademark for Styrofoam (capital S), and that it’s a brand of polystyrene foam (see more HERE).

      According to Wikipedia, “…in the United States and Canada, the word styrofoam incorrectly refers to expanded (not extruded) polystyrene foam, such as disposable coffee cups, coolers, or cushioning material in packaging, which is typically white and is made of expanded polystyrene beads. The term is used generically although it is a different material from the extruded polystyrene used for Styrofoam insulation. The Styrofoam brand polystyrene foam, which is used for craft applications, can be identified by its roughness and the fact that it “crunches” when cut. Additionally, it is moderately soluble in many organic solvents, cyanoacrylate, and the propellants and solvents of spray paint. Another tradename for polystyrene foam is thermacol, originated by BASF for expanded polystyrene.”

      At least we all know what type of containers we’re talking about when referring to styrofoam. It’s kind of like saying “Kleenex” when referring to facial tissue, or “Coke” when referring to soda.

  2. I need some kind of plastic sheeting to create a barrier between a retaining wall and dirt. I’m building a planter up against the retaining wall and need to protect the wall. The catch is that my wife does not want any toxic plastics to be in her garden. Is there plastic sheeting (or some other water barrier material) that I can use for this project? The planter will be about 40′ long by 3′ wide and 2′ deep.

  3. I am new to all of this and want to start my seeds in an egg carton and transfer to a container. Do I use regular organic potting soil to start the seeds in the egg carton and then use the same potting soil for the container once I transfer? Thanks for any help!

  4. I am planting an organic vegetable garden into recycled wooden crates. I don’t know if they are treated wood or not. Is there a safe way to line the crates with a plastic sheet or something like that? Or would it be better just to leave it as is, even if treated? I’m reading that even if the wood is treated the chemicals do not really seep into the plants but not sure I trust that.

  5. I would like to use a tarp for a weed barrior. Are there any that you can recommend that are safe for veggie plants? I know about water getting thru. I’ll puncture 100 holes (I’ve done it before to great success) What I am worried about is the plastic getting into the veggies.

  6. A thick​, very long, heavy duty​,​ kind of gray colored hose was left​,​ ​probably by the construction company, after the construction of neighboring new house​s. We found it years later and had been using it to water orchard and gardens. don’t know how to figure out what it could be made of. Would appreciate if anybody had any clues, what sort of words I can use to look it up.

  7. we are looking into a starter greenhouse, but all the covers are usually plastic. is there anything toxic off gassing into the “room” when these are used? i can see how direct contact with plastics leaches chemicals into plants, but what about growing in a hot, humid enclosed space with a plastic tarp that isn’t actually touch them?

  8. Thanks for this post – lots of useful info and ideas.
    Re : suppressing weeds : Weeds can be suppressed with any material that blanks out the light like old carpet, wood, etc., left on for 6 months. If the aim is to plant over the weeds, a thick layer of cardboard, overlapping by at least 30 cm, can be used and covered with organic material (the “lasagne” method) and the space planted immediately. By the time the cardboard breaks down, the weeds are dead. Avoid using cardboard below trees as is does not allow enough water to pass.
    Water management is a challenge. The greywater site (by far the best, in my opinion) has instructions for building concrete rain barrels and mulch pits and much more, permaculture sites give lots of advice on keyline design including adaptation to small gardens (mini-swales, for example). I’m interested in using bamboo for rainwater transport, as is done all over Asia.

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