5 Inspiring Examples of Zero Waste Gardening

These case studies show how clever reuse and upcycling can lead to significantly reduced waste.

Pallet vegetable garden
Raised beds made from shipping pallets. jess311 / Getty Images

The zero waste movement is about sending nothing to the landfill. It relies on five basic principles; refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and rot (and in that order).

While zero waste may be most famously known for plastic-free grocery shopping and personal care products, it can be applied to the garden as well. Zero waste gardening means making the most of things that might otherwise have been thrown away, and avoiding waste of all kinds when creating and maintaining a garden.

Most sustainable gardeners will have embraced a zero waste approach to some degree. You may already help to reduce food waste and stop organic matter rotting in the landfill by creating your own compost at home.

You may also already use old yogurt pots, plastic trays, toilet roll tubes, etc. when sowing and growing. You may have even reduced waste by regrowing vegetables from scraps.

But there are plenty of other things you can do to embrace zero waste gardening. Here are some stories that might help you think outside of the box.

Homesteaders Use Old Cabin Construction Materials To Enable Year-Round Growing

Greenhouse window
Marcelo Costa Barros / Getty Images

One inspiring zero waste story involves a homestead where there was an old tumbledown cabin, no longer fit for use. But the materials from the cabin could be used. The homesteaders were able to avoid buying any new materials at all for a new undercover growing area. Instead, they used the old windows and doors, wood beams, even old nails and screws to make a new greenhouse from reclaimed materials. Using old windows and doors to construct a greenhouse for your own garden might be something to consider.

Community Upcycles Pallet Wood To Overhaul Brownfield Site

You may already be familiar with using old wooden pallets to create bed edging for new raised beds. But one community went much further. When they decided to create a new community garden on a brownfield city lot, they used pallet wood for everything. They not only used pallet wood for bed edging and fencing. They also made wood pallet vertical gardens for a south-facing wall, a pallet wood play area for local kids, pallet wood seating, an outdoor kitchen area, and even a wood pallet bar for their garden. You too could make use of upcycled wood in your garden. (Just make sure that if you choose pallet wood, that you know what the pallets were used for and whether or not they were treated.)

Read more: How to Tell if a Pallet Is Safe to Re-Use

A School's Lost-and-Found Stash Becomes a New Container Garden

Aloe succulent plant in a pot made from an upcycled plastic dinosaur toy
Simon McGill / Getty Images

Another great story of reuse comes from a school garden. Teachers seeking to create a new food producing garden for the kids on a small budget raided the school's lost and found area. There, they found a range of never-reclaimed lunch boxes, school bags, and old clothing that they used to make a new, quirky container garden for a small corner of the school grounds. School bags, plastic lunch boxes and even a pair of old rubber boots became planters. And one of the teachers used old clothes and sewed a fabric vertical garden with planting pockets that was hung on a sunny wall. Even the oddest items can be reused to grow some food in a small corner outside.

Zero Waste Craft Beer Company Uses Old Bottles To Make New Beds

A craft beer company took steps to create a new garden around their bar and brewery premises. They used spent grains to create new growing beds and built up the walls of the beds with old glass bottles. They also used glass bottles to line a pathway leading to a seating area, and in the heat-retaining base for a new pizza oven. You too could consider reusing glass bottles in a wide range of different ways in your garden.

Old Smartphone Repurposed For Wildlife Watch/ Allotment Security

Finally, it is worth mentioning one more cool zero waste idea. To reduce waste, we all need to make sure we keep our devices and electronic tech in use for as long as possible. An old smartphone might be ready for an upgrade, but an older phone does not necessarily have to be sent away for recycling just yet. One idea is to install a webcam app on an older phone and use it to keep watch over your garden. You might simply use it to monitor wildlife visiting your space, or, as in one example I know of, use it to set up a camera for allotment security.

There are, of course, plenty of other examples of zero waste gardening. But perhaps the ideas mentioned here might inspire you to reduce waste and make use of things that might otherwise have been thrown away.