Biologically degradable flowerpots on the market

For many years there has been an interest in biologically degradable flowerpots.

However, to date, no alternative was available that came close to the traditional flowerpot in terms of the price, weight and ease of use. This project shows that biologically degradable flowerpots can meet the high quality and economic requirements. The result: under the brand name D-grade, biologically degradable flowerpots by Desch Plantpak B.V are on the market.

Every year, three billion flowerpots are used in the Netherlands. Those flowerpots require 30,000 tonnes of polypropylene (PP). Because this raw material consists almost entirely of recycled material, costs remain low. Furthermore, the existing flowerpot weighs just a few grams and is suitable for automatic processing. A biological variation of the traditional pot therefore also has to meet these high requirements before the market will be interested in it. That means that all links in the chain, from raw material supplier via the pot manufacturer, the plant grower and retailer to the consumer, all have to appreciate the added value.

Pot manufacturer

During the research into biologically degradable flowerpots, researchers at Wageningen UR worked jointly with pot manufacturer Desch Plantpak B.V, plant grower Eerbeek Plantencentrum, retailer Intratuin and knowledge centre Flora Holland. Because of this, it was possible to test the quality of the flowerpots throughout the chain.

Degradable plastic

There are many types of material for biologically degradable flowerpots. For this research, various blends of the biologically degradable plastic PLA were tested. PLA is polyester based on lactic acid that in turn is extracted from agricultural products such as potatoes, maize and wheat. PLA has an interesting price/quality ratio and, furthermore, can be processed thermoplastically on existing equipment.

Plant cultivation

There are a number of PLA blends found to be suitable for flowerpots. Various types of PLA pots have been made using these. In practical tests, these biologically degradable pots were used for plant cultivation to find out whether the pot has an impact on plant growth or the method of cultivation. A different pot can, for example, mean that a different method of water provision is required. The tests revealed that PLA does not have an impact on plant growth or method of cultivation. Additionally, the PLA pots are suitable for use in automated processes. Apart from its many advantages, PLA has one disadvantage: it can distort at high temperatures such as those that can arise in a greenhouse. A solution has been found for this.

Material technology

During this project, researchers from Wageningen UR Food & Biobased Research mainly worked on material technology. The people from Applied Plant Research, departments of Applied Plant Research Bees, Greenhouse horticulture and Fungi, Applied Plant Research Flower Bulbs, Applied Plant Research Trees and Applied Plant Research Fruit, mainly focused on cultivation technology.

Green raw materials

“The project was a success”, said Gerald Schennink, coordinator of the Biologically degradable flowerpots project, and project manager in the Food & Biobased Research. According to Schennink, all parties in the chain worked well together, owing to which the product has already found its way onto the market.
For more information: see the use of green raw materials and the research by Wageningen UR into biobased products.