California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Keeping Green Landscapers Guide

Closing the Loop: Buying Recycled

The landscaping of a front yard, backyard, or business grounds is a long-term investment. With a little forethought, this investment can be managed to reduce the additional costs of ongoing maintenance while reducing the amount of waste produced by such projects. Furthermore, the establishment of a landscape provides the opportunity to use environmentally and economically sound products.

Coincidentally recycling efforts throughout California have made available many new products that contain or use recycled materials. By using "recycled-content" landscaping products, virgin natural resources are conserved, markets for the collected recyclable materials are strengthened, and residents and professionals can save money. This section gives an overview of landscaping materials that help to "close the loop" of recycling, and prevent waste.


Soil Amendments and Mulches
There are many soil enhancement products on the market that contain up to 100 percent recycled content. These enhancements can improve soil health, which improves plant health, necessitating less maintenance.

Compost, which has been used by farmers for centuries, is a ready-to-use soil enricher that looks and feels like dark, crumbly soil. Compost is made from recycled organic matter and has numerous beneficial effects both before and after planting as a soil conditioner and fertilizer. Compost enhances soil structure, texture, and aeration as well as improves moisture regulation. Compost loosens clay soils to improve drainage and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost to soils aids in erosion control, promotes soil fertility, and stimulates healthy root development in plants. It also provides slow-release nutrients that feed plants on a constant basis, in contrast to many synthetic fertilizers that cause spurts of growth, often increasing the need for pruning, trimming, and mowing.

Compost can also be applied to established turf area and planting beds. There are two ways to add compost to lawns—by aerating and applying compost into the holes made by the aerator, or simply by sprinkling a layer on top, called top dressing. In the planting bed areas a top dressing of compost once or twice a year will help to ensure a beautiful garden. Additional applications throughout the year could benefit the garden and will not damage the plants. You can either leave the compost on the soil surface as mulch or work it into the soil.

Mulch is any material (wood chips, compost, paper, shredded tires, rocks) placed over the soil surface to reduce evaporation and erosion, prevent weed growth, and insulate plants from extreme temperature changes. There are many sources of recycled-content mulch in California. Organic mulches can be applied 3-6" deep on top of your soil. Do not bury or dig in the mulch; just keep it on the surface. It is also best to keep mulch a few inches away from the trunks of trees to prevent fungal infections. Mulching provides ideal, moist conditions for healthy micro-organism and macro-organism populations. These two populations will work together to "rototill" the soil and increase the overall health and structure of the soil.

Other Products

Landscaping Supplies--Purchasing and Packaging
The first step in waste reduction takes place when a product is purchased. Look for landscaping supplies that are available without excess packaging, such as in bulk form. Consumers can influence manufacturers to produce products with minimal packaging or packaging containing recycled content by "voting with their dollars," or even contacting manufacturers directly and expressing purchase preferences.

As many large-scale landscapers know, some fertilizers and pesticides can be purchased in bulk quantities, reusable containers, or water-soluble packages. Bulk packaging reduces the amount of waste per unit of product and usually costs less. Reusable packages are designed to be returned to the manufacturer or distributor to be refilled. Some manufacturers produce water-soluble packaging that is incorporated into the final product.

In the landscape industry, the reuse or recycling of plant containers can have a dramatic impact on the waste stream from landscape operations. Nurseries may accept certain empty plastic flats, as well as plastic and wood plant containers for reuse. Wood containers can be reused as decorative planters, cut up into stakes, or ground up for mulch. Plastic containers that are not reused can be recycled and incorporated into products such as plastic lumber for landscaping timbers, benches, or playground equipment. Both large and small generators of used containers should consider "material exchange" services.

Landscape Edging
Landscape edging helps to separate one spreading or invasive plant from another, or simply defines areas within a landscape. The requirements of a given landscape make selection and installation of edging materials relatively important. Small differences in products can result in long-term savings for the property owner and maintenance contractor. Effective containment and durability save maintenance dollars in the future.

Begin by considering what type of edging material is best to use. Available materials include poly/vinyl, aluminum, steel, wood, and even concrete. By asking your landscape supplier you should be able to find materials that are either 100 percent recycled or have some recycled content. Other materials that can be reused as edging include old bricks, broken chunks of concrete, rocks dug up during the prepping of a yard, or other materials that fit into your designed landscape.


Use this checklist to help you do your part to help California close the loop by buying and using recycled-content products.

  • New products made from recycled materials are used.
  • Composts and mulches are made from recycled organic material to help prepare and enhance landscapes.
  • Material exchanges, such as the California Materials Exchange (CALMAXTM), have been checked for reusable items like plant pots, wood, and equipment.
  • Recycled-content hardscaping, such as edging, decking, and patios, are used where possible.

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Last updated: April 14, 2011
Organic Materials Management