The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that the rate of plastic waste recycling was only 9.1% in 2015 (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2017). Four billion container/plant units are produced by the container crop industry annually in the United States, with petroleum-based plastic containers accounting for 1.6 billion pounds of plastic (Schrader, 2013). Moving toward sustainability, the green industry has shown an increased interest in biodegradable containers in the United States (Sun et al., 2015) and globally (Castronuovo et al., 2015; Zhang et al., 2019). Lower gas emissions can be achieved if alternatives to plastic containers are used; for example, Koeser et al. (2014) reported that 16% of carbon dioxide emissions of petunia (Petunia ×hybrida) production are linked to the plastic containers used to grow the plants.
Traditionally, the green industry has relied on plastic containers. Plastic containers are used because of their durability, superior function, low cost, wide variety of available sizes and shapes, and ease of shipping and marketing (Chappell and Knox, 2012; Evans and Hensley, 2004; Kratsch et al., 2015). Alternative containers are made from a variety of animal- and plant-based materials that are derived from renewable sources, including bioplastics, coir, poultry feathers, processed cow manure, paper fibers, and rice (Oryza sativa) hulls (Evans et al., 2015). Biodegradable containers are typically categorized as compostable or plantable. Plantable biocontainers may be directly planted in the field, raised bed, or pots and allow plant roots to protrude through their walls. Compostable containers must be removed before planting because they degrade too slowly for plant roots to grow through the container walls. However, they decompose relatively rapidly in a compost pile (Mooney, 2009). Due to the low compression strength, alternative containers can decrease landfill space and decompose more rapidly than traditional plastic containers (Fulcher et al., 2015).
Green industry stakeholders could align with sustainability-minded consumers to potentially increase the adoption of alternative containers for landscapes (Diver et al., 2001). The survey of the industry regarding sustainable production practices based on a national sample yielded a 12% response rate and concluded that the primary obstacle was incompatibility of sustainable practices with the production systems used by the green industry (Dennis et al., 2010). Several other studies focused on consumers and their preferences and practices regarding sustainable gardening and choice of plant containers. Using Internet survey data, Hall et al. (2010) acknowledged seven market segments and consumer profiles regarding the characteristics of biodegradable pots and recommended idiosyncratic marketing strategies for the industry to market such containers to identified segments. Another study suggested targeting consumers with ecofriendly products in relation to the type of purchased plant (Behe et al., 2010).
The willingness-to-pay study solicited responses of consumers and used, among others, pictures of seven biodegradable containers and a plastic container made from the recycled plastic (Yue et al., 2010b). Although consumers were willing to pay a premium for several types of biodegradable pots as compared with that of the plastic pot, premium differences among specific biodegradable pots were found. A study using a mixed ordered probit model to examine the premium consumers were willing to pay for biodegradable pots yielded more accurate premium measures than the conjoint analysis and confirmed the differences in premiums across pot types (Yue at al., 2010a). Studies regarding biocontainers also included experiments involving several types of biodegradable containers and a conventional plastic pot that were evaluated with regard to the appearance and durability during production of the most widely produced potted plant, poinsettia [Euphorbia pulcherrima (Lopez and Camberato, 2011)]. The study concluded that none of the seven tested containers negatively impacted the plant appearance, but container integrity could affect marketability. Recent market research reported that ornamental plant consumers are willing to pay more for nonplastic and recyclable containers (Fulcher et al., 2015).
The use of specific biodegradable container types is influenced by many factors. The choice of container is determined by familiarity within the industry, especially in the case of novel products. Hall et al. (2010) noted that the introduction of biodegradable containers had a high level of risk and uncertainty in the green industry. The housing crisis of 2009–10 substantially lowered the home ownership rate, causing a decline in demand for the green industry products and services and caused the contraction of profits. Such developments might have slowed the interest in and the use of novel products, especially if they require the buyer to pay a premium. The degree of current knowledge about specific types of biodegradable containers bears re-examination. Such information is of interest to the manufacturers and distributors seeking ways to improve sales and to organizations interested in continuing the reduction of the use of plastic containers due to their environmental impact, limiting the amount of solid waste disposed at landfills, lessening the cost of solid waste collection, and decreasing the contamination threat to water and soil (Meng et al., 2015, 2016).
This study sought to determine the familiarity and use of biodegradable containers by plant growers and landscape professionals. Information gleaned from this research could be used to provide focused education programs to improve biodegradable container adoption. Discerning characteristics of green industry firms and respondents that are limiting or preventing the use of biocontainers identified in this study could help in the preparation of content aimed at educating industry audiences.
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