There are many areas in our lives where we can strive to be zero-waste—and the garden is no exception

Zero-waste living has been around for generations, although it has recently reclaimed its place in the modern world as people rediscover its environmental benefits (and personal cost-saving factors).

Zero-waste gardening is known as the practice of growing food and plants while focusing on the conservation of all resources. It ensures that nothing goes into the landfills, new materials aren’t made, and the practices aren’t harmful towards the environment.

Gardening is already an ode to Mother Earth, but doing it the zero-waste way kicks it up a notch. There are many ways to implement the lifestyle—starting with the building of your garden all the way through to disposal at the end of the season.

Zero-waste building

Building materials come at the highest cost for the gardener—and for the environment, especially with more old-growth forests being cut for lumber. There are infinite ways to be scrappy when building new or expanding on gardens—you just have to get a little creative. Here are some ways to repurpose and reuse:

  1. Salvage old pallets, wood, reclaimed bricks, stone or landscape edging from shops in your area to use for raised beds.
  2. Use tires, old pots and other well-draining vessels to use as planters for your garden.
  3. Collect newspaper and cardboard for the base of your no-dig garden beds from grocery stores, warehouses and other places that receive big shipments.

Zero-waste growing

You might be thinking: isn’t the growing already zero-waste? There is a surprising amount of waste that can go into traditional gardening, so here’s how you can avoid it:

  1. Avoid disposable pots from the nursery and reuse your own, or use thrifted plastic bowls and cups with drainage for your seedlings. If you do buy nursery plants, save the pots to start your own seeds for next year.
  2. Start your plants from organic or heirloom seeds, or get some from your friends or local community members. Remember to save your fruits’ seeds for next year’s produce.
  3. Rather than buy new plants from the store, get plant divisions from your friends or attend a plant swap.
  4. Skip the harmful fertilizers and build up soil health in order to attract beneficial insects who will keep pests out of the garden.
  5. Label your plants with high-quality stakes made of metal or reuse wood or rocks to help identify what’s in your garden.

Zero-waste maintenance

Tools and resources can often be just as expensive as the gardening materials, but there are ways to be more economical, environmental and communal in your tool-acquiring endeavours. 

  1. If you have good neighbours and gardening friends, see if you can share gardening tools. Rather than each having your own set, you can eliminate the need for purchasing new by having a collective garden shed. If you are purchasing tools, look for high-quality tools whether purchasing new or thrifting; longevity in tools means you can repair what’s broken rather than throwing them out.
  2. Reduce water consumption by using compost on your bed to capture moisture, then mulching your garden beds to retain moisture, and finally saving your rainwater in order to lower your water usage and bill.
  3. Rather than buying mulch from the store or your local organic farm, you can make your own mulch. Twigs and branches, leaves and cut grass all make for good (and free) mulch that you can use in your garden.

Zero-waste disposal

The end of life for a garden is just as important as the start (if not more important). Finishing off your season the zero-waste way will prompt next year’s garden to be all the more sustainable.

  1. Compost your scraps: that means the plant material from your garden and your kitchen scraps. Not only will you save your food scraps from the landfill, but you’ll also be able to avoid the use of chemical sprays on your garden by using the finished compost product. You can make a zero-waste compost bin by salvaging hardware cloth, metal poles and wood.
  2. Start a worm bin to replace the plastic bags and bottles of fertilizer as well. Worm castings (their poop) is one of the best natural fertilizers for the garden and you can make one at a low cost to you and the environment. You can use a stainless steel sink or plastic tub if you have one or can find one on the side of the road.

Zero-waste gardening is easier than it sounds. Use these steps as a guideline and always keep in mind how you can reduce waste and avoid the use of new items as much as possible. Creating this closed-loop system in the garden is a great way to honour the planet, nourish ourselves with good food, all while minimizing waste and the consumption of materials.