What Are We Going to Do With All Those Soil Bags?

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Have you ever wondered what happens to all those bags that come through our community each season, filled with soil mediums? There is a recycling symbol on most of the bags, but, alas, they end up in landfills.

The local transfer station and other waste haulers did separate them for recycling in years past, but that stopped when policies called Green Fence were enacted in China (where most of our recyclables end up) and the market shifted for the type of plastic (LDPE4) that most soil bags are made of. Further, the bags were too contaminated (with soil!) to be dealt with on an industrial scale with the current technology.

Over the summer, a small group of people in SoHum have worked on getting the bags to a acceptable level of cleanliness, and although we’ve figured out a way, I cannot seem to find anywhere for them to go (besides: landfill). The LDPE4 plastic is a very low quality plastic, and there is virtually no market for it. Which is great, in a way! It is true that this plastic is basically worthlessaside fro “single use,” so now we can move on!

What now?

I invite you to call the companies that you buy soil from and let them know we’re on to them; that their product is not sustainable, and we’d like them to make a change. Can they take the recycling symbol off their packaging? Can they help collect and deliver bags to the few markets that do exist for recycling LDPE4 on the scale we use it? Can they look for alternative packaging?

I’m including contact info here for three companies. Share this information, and encourage your buddies to make a phone call to one or more of the companies that they buy from, asking them to think about their product’s environmental impact, both inside the bag and the bag itself.

Oh, and take a soil building workshop, if you dont already have the skills needed to keep the soil you bought this year healthy and productive for years to come. Reduce your overhead and the impact of your garden on many levels!

Let’s continue to ask companies to look at alternatives. In the meantime,) I’ll continue calling them to talk individually about what their needs are, and dig up a few leads on a new type of packaging that I’m hopeful we will all see very soon.



Black Gold
(800) 732-8667

866 376 8578


Yours in a Greener Tomorrow,

Holly Carter




  • In the meantime, perhaps the garden shops that sell so much of the bagged soils could have a drop-off bin for used bags. People who still purchase trash bags could, instead, take the free soil bags for their trash. At least they would get one more use before they hit the landfill. Reuse comes before Recycle.

    • But that would mean that they’d have to be willing to haul the trash back to town. Good luck with that. Trying to get a grower to clean their scene is like telling a pig to clean up its pen. They just want their “goals” met. Gentleman farmers are few and far between.

      • They do get to town, from what I can see, and get dumped in the transfer station. There are days that place (in Redway) is full of plastic bags.
        Of course, they also get dumped off the side of the road and over cliffs above the river….

  • Yep they make great trash bags, thicker than contractor bags. Perhaps the county could utilize them for litter pick up or smaller pruning projects on the side of road, the con crew jobs. Maybe the homeless shelters could give them out for trash or shelter at the camps. They are waterproof! One year I cut a bunch up so they laid flat and used em instead of black plastic on a garden bed as cover over winter.
    Call the SCRAP folks in no hum, it would be cool to see their ideas for re-use. They do a competition each year so maybe re-use of the bags could be part of it.
    Maybe big festivals/burning man could use them for trash, theres tons of it.

    • I agree, reusing them for garbage is a great idea.
      and: yes, call SCRAP and see if they’ll take them! I have seen really interesting things (clothes at the Fall Splendor! beach bags…) made from them. Im still concerned due to the scale of use, however.

  • We build our raised garden beds with chicken manure every year. I am sure the bags are the same. Our grow bags have the same soil we stared with just add additives to soil thru watering. They produce the same year after year. You don’t need to through out the soil. It is just a medium.

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      Right you are. With no signs of disease, just keep re-using your old soil with additives and supplements. Farmers use the same dirt in the same fields for centuries with supplemental fertilizer.

  • Better yet it would be great if Fox Farm would support purchasing soil in bulk. I contacted them a year or so ago inquiring about purchasing 2-3 cubic yards of soil for raised garden beds at our home and they said they don’t sell soil in bulk. Of course it’s far more lucrative to sell bagged soil (calculate the cubic yard price sometime for those bagged soil amendments you buy at the garden stores) but I was shocked they wouldn’t facilitate this, especially to local folks in need. It is rather absurd to look at the vast number of semi-trucks heading down the highway each year stacked to the sky with bagged soil when at least for local needs it could be purchased in bulk and avoid the disposable plastic problem all together, as well as providing a more cost effective means of purchasing larger quantities of soil. The end result was I went to Wes Green Landscaping and purchased their “premium” soil in bulk – not quite the quality of Fox Farm and some of the other bagged options but much more cost effective and I felt better about the lack of excessive packaging.

    • Fox farms was purchased by Scott’s (Monsanto) years ago. They purchase compost from sun valley and it’s hardly organic. That’s why they removed ‘organic’ off of the ocean forest bag and put ‘natural.’ Obviously selling it by the bag is more lucrative. Sungro is also a huge international corporation (black gold, sunshine, etc.). My point is these types of companies have no concern for the planet or the farmer. Lots of companies out there will sell soil by the tote or truckload. Aurora, royal gold, as well as a lot of smaller companies. I would promote neighborhoods to split truckloads; Even better, ammed your soil. Amending is really not that hard and there are plenty of specialists around the area who can help.

      • First off get your facts straight. Scotts is not the same company as Monsanto look it up! Secondly Scotts bought General Hydroponics and Vermicrop and does not own FoxFarm as you stated. Before you spread rumors do your research!!

        And amend would be the correct spelling not ammed.

    • FYI Green Future sells soils and amendments in bulk.
      They are on West End Road in Arcata.


      • They’re still making that garbage? It’s been struggling for over 5 years. I figured they gave up by now. I was given pallets of it probably about 4 years or more ago. I only used it in my vegetable garden and I was still disappointed. There’s a reason i didn’t mention them…

        • Lost Croat Outburst

          I liked their dirt. It worked very well for me. Yeah, the West End Road people. Especially like the no-perlite, no vermiculite high-test blend.

    • Lost Croat Outburst

      Every time I see an employment recruitment ad from Fox Farm they demand a drug test and tout their drug-free facility. How can they get away with that? They don’t get Black-Belted, they don’t get “Hanked”, nothing. WTF?

      • When Willy sold out to Scott’s brand a lot of changes came with it. They let a lot of old knowledgable employees go. They also started using a hiring agency. They watch you for three months before you can even be eligible to be an employee. Yes they drug test. No gardener should work for them. Decent job for a good ole boy though.

  • We have been looking into alternatives for our castings such as jute and burlap, one problem however is the stores are concerned about leaving a mess in their shop, and we are concerned with the shops letting them get to dry. Great post by the way, this has been an issue for so long.

  • How many empty bags get turned into sand bags and used to dam up the creeks?

  • Landfills? Yeh right. They get tore up by wildlife and scattered through the woods. I have seen a dramatic rise in plastic pollution in the woods since I started a career in forestry here 20 years ago.

  • Hello, FoxFarm here.  We agree that the poly bag recycling issue is a concern.  We’re talking with local recycling authorities about options for the future. Our soil bags always have been and continue to be recyclable, and are still accepted in some recycling markets.  A list of California recycling centers that accept LDPE #4 Low Density Polyethylene has been created by CalRecycle, and can be found here:  http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/FacIT/Facility/Search.aspx#LIST.  This list may be helpful for consumers outside Humboldt County. We have contacted the only recycler listed in Humboldt and found that they do not, in fact, accept these bags.  We are reaching out to additional recyclers on this list in an effort to create accurate information that we can share with our customers.  More to come!
    Due in part to our concerns about this issue, we’ve offered our soils for sale in 55 cubic foot totes,  as of the beginning of this season.  These new sizes provide an eco-conscious alternative to those of you who are being forced to dispose of these bags in large quantities.  FoxFarm is passionate about protecting our planet for future generations, and we feel that these totes are a step in the right direction.  
    It sounds like the Scotts/Monsanto rumor is still going strong!  FoxFarm is still family owned and operated on a daily basis by the man who started the company in his own backyard, Mr. Willy Winer.  Our Samoa facility is going strong, providing local jobs mixing the soil that we love.  Other companies such as General Hydroponics and Vermicrop have been purchased by the Scotts/Monsanto Company.

    We are dedicated to producing the finest quality garden products available anywhere on the planet. All formulas are handcrafted in small batches to ensure superior consistency and quality control so you have the best experience in your garden.
    We are available to answer any questions you have at (800) 4FOXFARM, or via email at foxfarm@foxfarmfertilizer.com.  Please let us know if we can answer any questions.  Until then, happy gardening!

    • Thank you for the link. I will follow up with the places listed. I have already called the closest ones, and while they do take some LDPE4, soil bags are another story. The dirt & the inks are contaminants that they dont want to risk taking and not being able to resell.
      Options are being developed and I’ll be happy to contact you with more information soon!

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