Ask a Question forum: Seed starting trays toxic?

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Name: Reid
North Branch, MN (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Anderwood
Apr 30, 2017 8:39 PM CST
Hi,

I have heard concerns recently of plastic sees starting trays leaching chemicals, and contaminating plants, defeating the hopes of being organic. How true is this? Should I be concerned for the health of myself and family?

Thanks,

Reid
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
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Weedwhacker
Apr 30, 2017 8:51 PM CST
Interesting question, Reid!

I have no scientific evidence, but...

my thought is, if anything from the plastic did leach into the plant, the amount would be minuscule once the plant grows to harvest size.

or, maybe not?
“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer /
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Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Apr 30, 2017 9:00 PM CST
Not a bad question... and I am getting more and more concerned at the amount of plastics we are introducing to the world, particularly how it affects our sea creatures. I don't do much in the way of seed starting myself, but there do seem to be a lot of alternative products out there - newspaper formed cells, recycling egg cartons, bio-degradable stuff, etc. etc. I think it is worth exploring and using what you are most comfortable with.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
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DaisyI
Apr 30, 2017 11:02 PM CST
I have heard this too but my understanding is that the problem comes from using unstable plastic, ie milk jugs, etc. that break down in the sun. Plastic pots don't break down so should not be a problem.
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Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Greenhouse Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Enjoys or suffers cold winters Butterflies Birds
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Weedwhacker
May 1, 2017 8:27 AM CST
Bonehead said:Not a bad question... and I am getting more and more concerned at the amount of plastics we are introducing to the world, particularly how it affects our sea creatures. I don't do much in the way of seed starting myself, but there do seem to be a lot of alternative products out there - newspaper formed cells, recycling egg cartons, bio-degradable stuff, etc. etc. I think it is worth exploring and using what you are most comfortable with.


The environmental issue is certainly a concern. I'm doing my best to keep plastic out of the environment by continuing to use pots, flats and 6-packs that came from a small greenhouse operation that was part of a property I bought in 1987... Smiling

“Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." ~ Albert Schweitzer /
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Name: Abbey
Eastern New York State (Zone 6a)
Bookworm Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Garden Photography Garden Art Birds Region: New York
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Garden10
May 1, 2017 8:42 AM CST
BPA is a major issue, and there is plenty of scholarship out there to support that, but nothing more convincing to my mind, based on my experience, than the amount of effort the plastics industry puts into trying to dispute it. I echo Deb, there are plenty of alternatives, best to use them, the more we put our dollars toward sane and safe alternatives, the better chance we have at saving this planet, because only money talks to these companies, and you have to speak the language they understand (with a boycott or two thrown in, of course!) Green Grin!
"Every now and then I leave the book on the seat and go and have a refreshing potter among my flower beds from which I return greatly benefited, and with a more just conception of what is worth bothering about, and what is not." The Solitary Summer -- Elizabeth von Arnim
Name: Elaine
Sarasota, Fl
The one constant in life is change
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dyzzypyxxy
May 1, 2017 9:24 AM CST
I've used my seed starting trays for 3 years running now, and don't see any signs of breakdown of the plastic. This indicates to me that it is a stable plastic that doesn't leach its components out either from sunlight exposure or water. Newspaper made into seed pots is decidedly risky to me, I've got to say. You never know what went into that newspaper or what's in the ink that surely does leach into the soil. Ditto egg cartons - the paper ones are recycled paper, who knows what it was before, and the styrofoam ones leach styrene. There are risks everywhere, you just have to choose the least risk from what you know.

Also, considering the short time the seedlings spend in the trays, I can't imagine that even in the lifetime of your children there could be enough plastic toxin getting into the plant to hurt anyone.

Buying my "organic" milk in a gallon size plastic jug gives me more concern than a seed starting tray ever would. I've switched to buying milk in the 1/2gal. paper/plasticized cartons instead. Possibly a better alternative both for leaching issues and for the environment.

Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Cindy
Hobart, IN zone 5
aka CindyMzone5
Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
Shadegardener
May 1, 2017 3:31 PM CST
There is the soil block option although I've never tried it. I think Elliot Coleman uses reusable wooden trays. I think the soil blocks can be made in different sizes for seed-starting up to transplant size.
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can't eat money. Cree proverb
Name: Rick R.
Minneapolis, MN, USA zone 4
I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Sages The WITWIT Badge Garden Photography Region: Minnesota Hybridizer
Seed Starter Plant Identifier Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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Leftwood
May 1, 2017 5:21 PM CST
Is there a link between aged plastics and leaching toxins? Or is it the newer plastic that leach more (outgassing and the initial contact with poorly bonded surface chemicals)? Shrug! I'm not sure how "unstable" plastics could be labeled good or bad. If they are breaking down, how do you know if they are transforming into something more or less toxic? Confused And of course, we are treating plastic like there is only one kind (a silly notion), and that they all react the same way. D'Oh!

I would be far more worried about putting plastic containers with food into the microwave.... Whistling
Name: Abbey
Eastern New York State (Zone 6a)
Bookworm Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Garden Photography Garden Art Birds Region: New York
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Garden10
May 1, 2017 5:37 PM CST
Leftwood said:Is there a link between aged plastics and leaching toxins? Or is it the newer plastic that leach more (outgassing and the initial contact with poorly bonded surface chemicals)? Shrug! I'm not sure how "unstable" plastics could be labeled good or bad. If they are breaking down, how do you know if they are transforming into something more or less toxic? Confused And of course, we are treating plastic like there is only one kind (a silly notion), and that they all react the same way. D'Oh!

I would be far more worried about putting plastic containers with food into the microwave.... Whistling


I've never even owned a microwave! Big Grin

Here's the deal as I see it -- as consumers, we are up against it, big time, we've seen over and over that if someone can get away with something dangerous in favor of making more money, they'll do it. They're hoping we get tired of wondering and will just say, oh, screw it, or get defensive and pretend there really isn't any kind of risk, or even that there is some sort of superiority in mocking concerns...there is just so much we can do, so much we can know, and it's unrealistic to expect us to parse out what is a good plastic, what is a bad plastic, we're not scientists. If industry doesn't want to be transparent, then hold them accountable -- don't buy their stuff. We need to make as many smart choices as we can without embarking on graduate-level study. Recycle what is recyclable, if something isn't, don't buy it! Make the better non-plastic choice whenever we can, some have been brought up here, again, we have to stop sacrificing so much for convenience. If we don't buy it, they'll stop making it. Just because we can't do something perfectly doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do the best we can.
"Every now and then I leave the book on the seat and go and have a refreshing potter among my flower beds from which I return greatly benefited, and with a more just conception of what is worth bothering about, and what is not." The Solitary Summer -- Elizabeth von Arnim
Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
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RickCorey
May 1, 2017 5:48 PM CST
Storing food for long periods of time in non-food-grade plastic for months MIGHT leach a detectable amount of something out of the plastic - but I bet it would take REALLY expensive equipment to detect that small a number of molecules.

If a seedling sits in a cell for a few weeks, then grows into a plant, and you don't even eat its root ... if there were any way to settle the bet, I would bet that eating the adult plant would not put even ONE molecule of something from the plastic into your body.

There must be other ways to reduce your exposure to plastic leachates and breakdown products, ways that would reward your efforts more than worrying about the tiny sources.

When we talk about speeding up some software, we keep reminding ourselves to only spend our efforts making things faster that HAVE a lot of wasted time in them. Or, if someone is trying to prevent malaria, they spend time and money on places where there IS a lot of malaria.

Similarly, you will keep MORE unnatural chemicals out of your body if you focus on sources where there ARE a lot of chemicals to be avoided. I think that seedling trays are negligible sources of toxins (maybe storing food in them would be a mistake and maybe not; I'm not sure HOW stable those plastics are when protected from UV).

I don't rub hot chili peppers on my garden border to keep wild elephants out, even though that is said to work well. That's because there were relatively few wild elephants in my yard to start with. Instead, I focus on slugs. Similarly, for food toxicity issues, I would focus on almost anything other than seedling trays.

But just plain old not liking plastic is a FINE reason to knock together some wooden flats instead.


The ecological issue of: "But you're using plastic!" is or may be a valid issue.

So I re-use my trays until they fall apart {*}, which I haven't seen yet, and I "rescue" soda bottles to re-use as plant pots. I figure by the time I die, I'll be many pounds ahead - I take more plastic OUT of landfill to re-use for plants than I put IN due to gardening.

And I seldom throw away a big plastic bag that bark came in. I re-use them until they fall apart (then I do throw them away).

But my main "plastic virtue" lies in NOT using plastic soda bottles or water bottles myself. I save gallon jugs from being discarded, then refill them at a well. None of those have worn all the way out yet, but on some the "dangle-handles" have broken and I have to carry them from the bottom. (Have I mentioned that I just don't like to throw things away?)

{*}
"Inserts", as opposed to "propagation trays" are probably intended to be single-use inserts.

They sure are flimsy, and tear easily! Except for the "72-cell, twelve-6-pack 1020 Insert trays", I use mostly heavier, permanent propagation trays ("plug trays"). Those only break when I'm clumsy slicing them up into smaller sub-trays.

So I save any "6-pack inserts" with 2-3 cracked or torn cells. I cut out the healthy cells and use those to reinforce 6-packs with just one crack. Simply drop the good, trimmed cell into the cracked cell, and now it isn't cracked anymore!

You can even use two cracked cells to make one whole cell. Just rotate the cracks to be 180 degrees apart. That works for flimsy 4" plant pots, too. I've cracked many of those, but discarded none. Two cracks make a whole.



[Last edited by RickCorey - May 1, 2017 5:50 PM (+)]
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Name: Reid
North Branch, MN (Zone 4b)
Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Anderwood
May 2, 2017 10:13 AM CST
Thank You! everyone!
Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
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Philipwonel
May 2, 2017 10:21 AM CST
Newspaper to make pots, or to use in mulch pile. Call your newspaper. Ask them if they use organic or
in-organic ink. I use the newspaper ! But i toss the colored and slick ads.
My newspaper uses organic ink.
😎😎😎
Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.

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