‘Desch pots are made of recycled materials and can be recycled again—so, let’s do that’

It is estimated that 500 million plastic pots are used to grow ornamental plants every year in the UK alone.

UK-based Desch Plantpak Ltd—celebrating 60 years in business this year—takes pride in manufacturing pots made of recycled plastics, and they were doing it long before ‘plastic panic’ ruled the world. In speaking with the sales manager for the UK and Ireland, Phil Griffiths, it is apparent that the UK desperately needs a nationwide and consistent approach to collecting and recycling plastic waste.

Desch Plantpak manufactures high-quality thermoformed pots and containers, transport trays, seedling trays, transplant trays and bedding packs. Trading under the EPLA brand name is a versatile range of injection moulded decorative pots, hanging pots, trays and accessories.

All ranges are proving popular in different markets. Sales in both thermoformed and injection-moulded containers are strong. Their square-round injection-moulded range is also currently enjoying a revival.

The company was founded in 1964 in Congleton, Cheshire, as Congleton Plastic Co. Ltd, which became Cookson Plastic Products in 1988. It then transitioned through Cookson Plantpak in 1990 and Synprodo Plantpak in 1988 before finally becoming Desch Plantpak Ltd in 2003.

Asked about the company’s biggest strength today, Phil Griffiths, Desch Plantpak’s UK and Ireland Sales Manager, says, “It boils down to having manufacturing and sales bases both in the UK and the EU, an extensive product portfolio, and a staff with extensive horticulture industry knowledge.”

Phil Griffiths, sales manager in the UK and Ireland at Desch Plantpak Ltd.

Plastic panic

It is estimated that 500 million plastic pots are used to grow ornamental plants every year in the UK alone. Desch Plantpak Ltd predominantly produces for the domestic market while also contributing a portion of its business to export sales to Ireland. On the continent, it runs several factories, catering for the majority of non-British sales.

Today, plastic panic seems everywhere and frequently has gone off track following images of garbage patches in the ocean and marine animals entangled in plastic debris. The debate is complex, and the primary question is whether to prioritise material, economy or society. Griffiths says, “Regarding the plastics debate, I believe it is very much customer responsibility and how you deal with the products during their life cycle. This should be done responsibly. All products are made of recycled materials and can be recycled again, so let’s do that.”

Ideally, plant pots should be recovered in yellow bags.

Confusion and apathy

Narrowing the topic down to the UK, Desch’s sales manager thinks the question is not if but how to achieve more sustainability in horticultural pots and containers. “In the UK, we need a nationwide, consistent approach to collecting and recycling waste. We have too many local variables, leading to confusion and apathy. Money needs to be invested in a credible collection and re-processing system that is standardised throughout the UK. Our products are all “ready to go” for that.”

The role of the UK waste industry in a more recyclable plastics economy is vital. “The circular system cannot exist if there is insufficient means to reprocess any waste that may be captured for recycling.”

In daily practice, it is not easy to persuade UK city councils to recycle plastic horti pots from the kerbside. Griffiths explains, “It is purely down to financials. Councils do not have the financial resources made available to them to establish and maintain an effective collection and recycling service.”

Recover PS rolls thermoforming foil at Desch Waalwij, the Netherlands.

Regulations and action plans

Plastics are subject to extensive regulation and action plans, such as WRAP and Eliminating Problem Plastics, and last but not least, the UK Plastic Pact. Desch Plantpak endorses the Packaging Covenant III, which includes arrangements to reduce the environmental impact of packaging and combat litter.

Griffiths notes, “As a long-established consumer and manufacturer of recycled plastic materials, we were ahead of the game with the UK Plastic Pact – our products have complied with its requirements for a percentage of recycled content for many years.”

He doesn’t think the urgency for more sustainable pots and trays intensified in the light of national taxes on plastics containing less than 30 per cent recyclate. “It had little impact for Desch as we have been using recycled material for many, many years. Though, over the past four years, we have undergone a massive transition to products that are detectable by recycling companies. This makes it possible to separate materials from the rest of the waste efficiently. It improves the quality of recycled products and significantly reduces the amount of waste that goes to incinerators or landfills.”

Desch Plantpak innovates by continually making products lighter by designing them smarter, so they have the same mechanical strength and less weight.

A mini-lesson in primary materials

Plastic is not all the same; there are hundreds of types. Desch Plantpak’s primary materials used in the UK are recycled polystyrene, recycled polypropylene, and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (r-pet). Griffiths adds, “Assuming a system exists for collection, virtually all are recyclable.”

When asked about supply constraints on recycled plastic, Griffiths comments, “Supplies vary from week to week, from month to month to be honest. But more generally speaking, there is an adequate supply. It is true to say that recycled material is less freely available than before the plastic tax issues because a lot of the blue-chip companies who used to work exclusively with virgin materials have now moved to the good quality recycled alternatives – previously taken by our industry. However, it is important to note that there is a difference between the sources of recycled materials; post-consumer waste is not always available in the required quantities.”


At the same time, the company redesigns some of its products to reduce material use. Griffiths elaborates, “We innovate by continually making products lighter by designing them ‘smarter’ so they have the same mechanical strength with less weight. Desch was also the first company to employ PP thermoforming technology to produce flowerpots. These products weighed less than half of the traditional injection-moulded products in the market. We are also making significant strides. We are re-engineering some of our injection moulds to lighten the weight of many of our container pots to 20-35 per cent lighter than two years ago.”


In the meantime, an endless range of biopots and biobased materials are available. What is the difference, and where should a grower begin?

Griffiths says, “In the world of Desch, a biopot should consist of natural elements only. So, it is made of fibres, pressed green waste, or biopolymers – this should always be a given. We call this biobased. Bioplastic is often referred to as a plastic material that is in some way compostable. Some will turn in water and CO2 only; others will only fragment and leave macro or nanoparticles, which is highly undesirable. Virgin plastic is hardly used for pots (sometimes for very bright colours or transparent products). Bioplastic is not used a lot as it is mostly compostable in an industrial way, which is undesirable. The search is for home compostable or soil-degradable biopolymers that keep well during plant production and break down quickly when required. We have done lots of work with industrially compostable, bio-based materials – however, the Holy Grail would be to develop a stable, home-compostable substrate… we aren’t there yet.”

The single best piece of advice to growers is to research the marketplace. “And test, test, test! Look for products that can be grown in instead of using plastic pots that are replaced by biopots just before delivery to the customers.”

Griffiths ensures that Desch’s product range is backed by independent research and trialling. “We use leading universities for product development, including Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and test centres to judge the products and compare them to others.”

Ultimately, the grower should opt for the most efficient solution, that is, pots that allow the plant to grow well and also fit full horti robotisation. “Then, pick the product with the lowest weight and the guarantee of recyclability. This can also be reflected in a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) value.”

Critics tend to say that biopots risk becoming brittle and require more watering. Griffiths: “Depending on the type, the products can break and need more water. Desch D-Grade BIO does not break and does not absorb water.”


Biopots are more expensive than the conventional plastic pot. So, the pertinent question is, how long will it take before they become competitive? “As soon as “the holy grail” has been developed, price will be dictated by volume (and vice versa) – sufficient people need to “buy in” to the idea and increased volumes sold will increase efficiencies and drive down the price. Several pots are not three but ten times more expensive now.”

The manufacturing of biobased pots that a grower can use throughout the entire production process: pots used to grow on plants into finished pots ready for retail is a work in progress. “We aim to develop products that are detectable and recyclable. Also, it is important to develop products that are compostable in a way that benefits the environment. We are researching new materials that are not based on fossil resources and working on easily degradable solutions at the end of their life cycle. These trials are ongoing and not yet at a marketable stage. Further product development is taking place with our D-grade and EVO pots – we are not yet ready to go to market with these—watch this space!”

This article was first published in the April 2024 issue of FloraCulture International.

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