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Plastic pot recycling makes Cornell greenhouses greener

Greenhouse grower Jacob Wszolek recycles pots at the Plant Science Greenhouses.

Greenhouse grower Jacob Wszolek recycles pots at the Plant Science Greenhouses.

For more than two decades, Cornell’s greenhouse staff have recycled potting soil and plants to make compost for use on campus and off. But with the addition this year of a plastic recycling program, Cornell’s greenhouses just got even greener.

Each year, experiments in Cornell greenhouses use tens of thousands of #5 polypropylene pots to grow plants. Whenever possible, the pots are sterilized and re-used. But it used to be that when they outlived their useful life, they were tossed out with the trash.

Now, the greenhouse staff can simply tap out the soil and deposit unusable pots into collection bins located at six greenhouses around campus. The plastic will find new life as ice scrapers, rakes, brooms, bike racks and other products.

At 155,000 square feet, Cornell’s greenhouses are the largest non-commercial facilities in New York. They house 200 to 300 research projects at any given time, growing everything from flower bulbs to bioenergy feedstock crops. They also support faculty teaching efforts.

Most of the greenhouses are run by the Cornell University Agricultural Experiment Station, which is dedicated to sustainability in its two core functions – operation of world-class research facilities on campus and around New York and administration of federal formula grants.

The recycling project is a joint effort led by the Safety, Health and Environmental Management Steering Committee for Cornell Greenhouses and the Cornell Recycling Department in Facilities Management. The entire greenhouse staff is enthusiastic about the recycling project as part of their commitment to reducing waste, energy use and carbon dioxide emissions.

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