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Working Toward Zero Waste Gardening, Together

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This year, my family is aiming for a low-waste garden to grow groceries and our appreciation for nature.

Every year, I try to approach my gardening efforts with one resolution. Last year, my family was interested in bees so we decided to plant tons of bee-friendly flowers to keep the neighborhood bees visiting. This year, I'm focused on having a low-waste garden of mostly vegetables and herbs to supplement our groceries. Why not a zero waste garden? I might get there another year but want to start with a reasonable, achievable goal and not stress out. Here are the things I'm trying this year.

Starting Seeds and Propagating

  • I usually buy seedlings at a local farm, recycle the packaging, and throw out the tags. This year, I visited a flower show and nursery to purchase seeds, and also some of my friends are trading seeds. I'll still buy a few seedlings, but not as many as in past years. I can compost the paper seed packages that the kids don't want to keep.
  • I'm starting the seeds in upcycled egg cartons from a cafe in the neighborhood, and in cute newspaper pots that one of the kids helped make. Wood seed pot makers last forever and you can find them online or at your local gardening store.
  • It's slow, but free — taking cuttings from plants that I like or from friends' plants, then rooting them in water until they grow their own roots.


  • My family kept meaning to compost, but we didn't have space for a compost bin at our house and didn't budget to pay for a weekly compost pickup service. Instead, we joined a community garden that has three compost piles, so now worms eat all of our tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, vegetable and fruit peels, weeds, and deadheaded flowers. We keep a big sealed container in the kitchen and make it a family outing to visit the garden every other night. The kids take turns tossing in the food scraps, adding leaves to the pile, and turning it. Sounds gross, right? It's actually fun and not too stinky if you keep up with dumping out your food scraps.
  • Egg shells are fabulous for the soil. You can crush them and mix them in, and a friend swears by planting tomatoes with egg shells around the roots.
  • I haven't had to buy mushroom soil or any other soil amendments — a nice money-saver.


  • One of my children is learning to read, so we're labeling all of our plants. We use popsicle sticks and pieces of cedar rather than some of the fancier metal or disposable plastic versions that you can purchase. I've seen some other great reusable plant markers to try, like spoons.
  • I'm growing Kentucky Wonder and rattlesnake pole beans this year, so I used three poles and some old kitchen twine for the vines to climb. It looks rustic and it has held up through some spring snowstorms.
  • For decorative flourishes in the garden, we're keeping it simple with salvaged bricks separating sections of a raised bed, and some tiny trucks, upcycled pirate cake toppers, and worn-out bath toys.

I live in an urban Zone 6 area of the USDA’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map that isn't experiencing a drought, so I realize that my experience may not be universal. But no matter where in the U.S. you live, you can reduce the amount of waste your garden produces while achieving your gardening dreams for 2014.

Will you garden together as a family? How do you bring the joy of caring for the earth to your children?

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About the Author
Bonnie Ehri
Bonnie Ehri

Bonnie is a member of Recyclebank's data and analytics team.

  • tommy b. 1 year ago
  • erica m. 1 year ago
    Is surface composting OK? Just toss the kitchen plant scraps and egg shells out in the mulch bed and within a week they disappear? Might be a strategy in neighborhoods with HOAs that are anti-composting.
  • Carla N. 2 years ago
    I rinse, dry, and crush egg shells, then add them to coffee beans when I grind them. The egg shell minimizes bitterness in the coffee. The egg shell/grounds combo then gets sprinkled around acid loving plants.
  • lisa p. 2 years ago
    All my adult life I have been saving used egg shells but have always toasted them in the toaster oven to bake off any potential Salmonella and then grind them up and either mix them with soil or scatter them where the local birds peck for Grit in the driveway. the birds do consume the crushed eggshells and it helps them to get the calcium they need for making new eggs of their own. Also, used Tea and Coffee are good for adding back nutrients to your gardens.
  • NAncy Lee B. 2 years ago
    Even if you don't have a garden here in NY city compost centers take eggs shells so they can become park become compost for city trees. Local community gardens take them for compost as well (where I live , check in your area) so another option if you don't have a personal garden.
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