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Is reusing old food buckets as flower pots actually a good sustainability practice or a bad one since I'm ruining good buckets by poking holes in the bottoms?

I get the buckets for free from my brother's restaurant. They'd recycle them if I didn't take'em.

  • On a slightly different note, there are now biodegradable plastic pots on the market made from potatoe starch. They are a bit more expensive (about 9 eurocents per pot) than the traditional plastic ones but expectations are that many professionals will start using them and that prices will drop. I'm not sure if they are already available for consumers. – THelper Mar 4 '13 at 8:53
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It is certainly preferable to recycling, since you can always recycle when you are done.

I think the simple answer is that generally repurposing something and using what would otherwise be discarded (recycled or sent to a land fill) is usually good practice, particularly if it does not interfere with recycling later. There may be exceptions but generally one thing repurposed instead of discarded means one more thing not purchased and thus a little bit of natural resources not consumed.

So yes, I would recommend continuing this practice and if you find more uses for such buckets, go for it!

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Anytime you can extend the life of a product you are practicing sustainable methods as long as the product isn't causing damage ie toxins, offgassing, etc. If you are only using the buckets temporarily I would double check with your local recycling program to ensure that you would in fact be able to recycle the buckets with holes in them. Recycling in general has many unsustainable aspects due to the amount of energy used to complete a true recycle. So, you if you are finding uses for these buckets that normally would not have another use I would say you are indeed practicing a good sustainability practice.

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As an American, I feel that I grew up on the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" phrase, which applies here. Only later did someone eventually add "in that order", which made the entire process for me even more clear. And after some research, I find some of the European variations to be more accurate (though maybe less kid friendly...) http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/framework/index.htm

Reusing is going to be a better practice over recycling becauses it saves energy and costs at a lot of stages. You didn't need someone to transport the bucket to a recycling facility, transport those raw materials from the recycling process to a new manufacturer, incur the energy costs of manufacturing from the raw materials, and then the transport of the new bucket (or pot) back to a store for you to buy. (And this ignores the issue of Downcycling).

I think that the bigger issue that is hidden in your question is could there be an even better use for the buckets. Once you poke the holes in the buckets, they are only good for flower pots. Without the holes, you could still use them as watering cans or rainwater catchment, just to come up with a few gardening related ideas.

The entire premise here being that you are diminishing the overall value of the bucket by poking holes in it. In that way you are getting it closer to the point where recycling is the only option, since it won't work for a variety of other uses. In some ways this is inevitable, since pretty much everything wears out eventually and needs to be cycled as sustainably as possible.

The only recommendation would be to consider if there are intermediate uses for the buckets in between the restaurant use and your use as a garden pot. If you can use them for something and then as they get worn, use fresh buckets from the restaurant for that task and poke holes in the old buckets for pots, I would figure that would be a more sustainable cycle. Considering that your brother likely has a plethora of buckets, I would start there to handle your gardening needs over buying pots!

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