Watering can watering garden.

Eco-Friendly Garden Tools & Supplies

It’s not just your plants that should be green

I have a lot of garden tools. A lot. Over the years, I’ve experienced my fair share of broken tools and gained some insight on the best products and how to extend their lifespan. This also applies to outdoor furniture and other items found in my yard.

On this page, I’ve compiled a list of eco-friendly garden tools and other common outdoor items to help you maintain a sustainable landscape.

Once you’re armed with sustainable garden tools, learn how to create a sustainable garden.

Eco-friendly gardening tools

garden tools

What should you look for in eco-friendly gardening tools? First and foremost, buy good quality, durable tools that will last. Choose reputable brands found at garden centers, rather than inexpensive tools sold elsewhere. Avoid plastic as much as possible and go with tools made from strong, sustainable materials like aluminum, steel, or FSC-certified wood. I prefer metal over wood, as wood takes more maintenance and without it gets dry and splintery.

Garden tool care

Properly caring for your garden tools is imperative to avoid needing replacements. Clean them after use, and store in a dry place, away from sunlight. Keep blades oiled and sharp, and treat wooden handles with linseed oil. These simple steps make a huge difference. I have forgotten my hand clippers in the rain more times than I can count, and once they get too rusty, it’s really hard to salvage them.

Anything with a blade can be taken to a knife sharpening service, or get some neighbors together and arrange for a mobile service to come to your home and sharpen all your tools and knives (they have a minimum fee). My local community garden has a tool repair clinic so you may want to check with yours. Here are more tips on maintaining your garden tools from Home Depot.

Take the time to contact manufacturers if a tool breaks or if a new part is needed. I sent a picture of a broken pruner to Corona, and they sent me a new one free of charge. I let a set of Felco pruners get too rusty, and they have replacement parts available for purchase on their website. Wooden tool handles might be able to be replaced as well.

Best gardening tools

My favorite garden hand tools are made by the following brands, known for quality and dependability. They are my go-to, essential gardening tools.

For larger gardening tools, my two brand picks are Ames and True Temper.

  • Ames – Very sturdy tools, including this shovel and edger that I own. I love this amazing weeding tool.
  • True Temper is part of the Ames brand family. The company might be known best for their steel wheelbarrows, which I can attest are very sturdy and long-lasting.

Both companies have tools such as shovels, hoes, picks, axes, and other heavier garden tools to help with your projects.

Steer clear of Black + Decker yard tools; the ones I have had always break.

What to do with old garden tools

Make sure to sell or donate any usable gardening tools that are no longer needed. Your local community garden is a great place to start.

Unusable metal tools can be scrapped at a metal recycler.

Garden gloves

If you are an avid gardener like me, you are replacing your gardening gloves every spring. I would love some that can be composted.

Planting Supplies

person repotting a plant

Non-plastic plant supports

Choose non-plastic materials for trellising, plant supports, etc. My favorite heavy duty stakes are similar to these steel t-posts (aka Y-posts); for lighter staking needs, go with bamboo stakes. I often save small stakes that come with some plants, and they usually come in handy later.

For securing plants, use a biodegradable material like jute, rather than the stretchy green plastic ties. I’ve also used it to make trellis netting, or you can buy ready made jute trellising. I recently discovered Velcro Garden Ties made from 65% recycled materials, and they are awesome. You could also go with some steel floral wire, although I’m not sure what the green coating is made from but I’m guessing it is plastic.

Check out Gardener’s Supply for a large selection of tomato cages, beautiful trellises, and other plant supports.

Planters & Pots

Growing your plants from seed takes some effort, but it is rewarding. Another benefit is you can do it plastic free. You can plant your seeds in toilet paper rolls filled with seed starting mix or in peat pellets, contained nicely in a bamboo seed tray. You can also buy pots made from bamboo, coconut coir. Save and reuse tags from purchase plants for labeling your seeds, or purchase some customizable markers made from bamboo or metal from this Utah-based Etsy shop.

CedarCraft planters sold at Costco use small pieces of discarded cedar to make its planters, therefore no trees are specifically harvested for this purpose. And they plant 1-2 trees for every planter purchased at Costco.

Reuse your plant pots

I always save various sizes of plastic pots for repotting plants. Check with your local garden center to see if they will accept them back for reuse (or recycle); many nurseries near me will take them gladly. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s accept any size for recycling per their websites. Whether their employees know this or not is another matter.

Recycling plant pots

Most plant pots are made of polypropylene (PP) / #5 plastic and are therefore recyclable.

Potting soil

When it comes to potting soil, choose bogs, not bags. Peatland bogs are being degraded at a rate of 500,000 hectares per year with serious consequences. Peat is composed of partially decomposed organic material, and these wetlands filter water, act as giant sponges in preventing flooding, and host a variety of wildlife. Additionally, peatlands are vast carbon sinks, absorbing and storing large amounts carbon of carbon from the atmosphere. This amount of carbon is significant, accounting for 40% of the planet’s soil carbon, which exceeds the total stored in any other type of vegetation–including the world’s forests. When water is drained from the peatlands and peat is extracted, CO2 (a greenhouse gas) is released and is currently responsible for 5-10% of global emissions, contributing to climate change. Peat is also takes centuries to form, so slowly that some do not consider it to be a renewable resource.

Perlite and vermiculite are better choices, but still carry their own environmental concerns. Both are finite sources that are obtained by mining and require high heat furnaces to process.

The best peat substitutes are

Purchase potting soils that are peat-free, such as Rosy Soil. Or try making your own. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends:

  • 2 parts coconut coir (Use finely ground fiber dust if starting small seeds.)
  • 1 part perlite to improve drainage and aid aeration
  • 1 part vermiculite to lighten the mix and hold water
  • 1 part compost if you wish

Don’t use any sort of potting soil when planting directly into the ground, strictly keeping with native soil. If the soil quality needs improving, amending it with compost will solve most problems.

Green Waste

wheelbarrow full of yard waste

Acceptable yard waste items to dispose of in your green waste cans are weeds, lawn clippings, leaves, and tree branches. But did you know you can also add tea bags, coffee grounds and filters, fruit & vegetables, and eggshells?

Tip: For your kitchen scraps, I recommend purchasing a countertop composter to collect them. It’s simple to place it next to your cutting board as you are peeling and trimming veggies. I had an older version of this OXO Compost Bin for a long time, and now I use this Simple Human Compost Caddy that hooks on to my trash can. If I’m doing a lot of cooking or preserving, I’ll use a large bowl instead to collect all the cores/stems/peels, etc., and then deposit in the can, or if I have a brown paper grocery bag handy I will use that and then toss the entire thing in since those bags are also compostable.

Municipal list of accepted items are more limited than what you can compost on your own, or what can be collected by food waste collections. To learn more about food waste and composting, click here.

Why can’t I just throw these things in the trash?

We need to make every effort to keep things out of the landfills as much as possible, and not just for space. Even though yard waste is organic, when it is sent to the landfill and buried, it lacks the oxygen it needs to naturally decompose. A head of lettuce can take up to 25 years to break down! In addition, the decomposition process normally creates carbon dioxide, but with anaerobic breakdown (lack of oxygen) creates methane instead, which traps heat in the atmosphere 25 times more than carbon dioxide.

What if my city doesn’t collect green waste?

First of all, make sure to let them know you would like this important service. Next, do what you can to avoid throw these things in your trash can with these simple, eco-friendly ways to utilize clippings throughout your yard.

  • Use the mulch setting on your lawn mower. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn has multiple benefits. It helps retain moisture, adds nutrients to the soil which decreases the need for fertilizer, and takes less time and effort for you.
  • I periodically collect the lawn clippings in the mower bag to mulch my garden for the same benefits.
  • Leaves, twigs, and pine needles can also be used for mulch; run them over with the lawn mower for smaller pieces.
  • Reuse materials: sod, branches, and leaves can be used to raising beds. If you’re removing sod, chances are if you put it near your sidewalk, people will ask for it without you even having to post it. When you are dividing perennials or digging up volunteers, offer them to a neighbor or on a gardening site; someone will take them.
  • Compost your yard waste yourself. Learn more here.

Irrigation Supplies

sprinkler head

Look for hoses that are made from polyurethane rather than PVC, which is arguably the worst and most toxic type of plastic. Seek hoses that meet FDA and NSF standards for drinking water safety and are free of BPA, lead, and phthalates.

I know Flexilla is an extremely popular hose choice, but they have none of the above information included on their website or product description. I sent a message asking for this specific information and the response was lackluster: “The hose that the water flows through is made from NSF Standard 61 compound. None of the six common phthalates restricted by US and European regulations are present in our hose.” No mention of PVC, BPA, or lead.

Got a leaky or punctured hose? Save some money and decrease waste by repairing before you toss it out. Bob Vila has great tips on how to repair a garden hose.

Can you recycle a garden hose?

Hoses cannot be recycled. You can cut off the metal ends for scrap metal, but the hose part has to go in the trash.

Spray nozzle

Water-efficient sprinklers

When installing or replacing sprinklers, look for ones labeled WaterSense, which meets EPA criteria. Rotary sprinkler heads, also called multi-stream rotational sprinkler heads, are the most water efficient, losing less to evaporation and applying water slow enough to be absorbed in clay soils. It is easy to retrofit existing fixed spray pop up sprinkler heads with these more efficient models. The downside of course is that the rotary heads are more expensive, about $8 each compared to $2-3 for basic fixed spray. But you may make up the difference in price on your water bill.

fixed spray vs rotary head sprinkler

Install a WaterSense-labeled smart controller for your sprinkler system—check if rebates are available in your area. These smart irrigation timers use either weather reports or soil moisture gauges to determine when watering is needed.

PLEASE water consciously. Search for watering guides that pertain to your area.

Important tips:

  • Check sprinkler heads for any broken or malfunctioning ones and repair ASAP.
  • Make sure sprinkler paths actually stay in your yard and are not watering the sidewalk and street.
  • Water at night so your plants to mitigate evaporation loss and have more time to absorb the moisture
  • Please, for the love of God, do not water in the middle of the day (especially when it’s 100 degrees out), when it’s pouring rain (or the day after), or when there are hurricane level winds. Again, get a smart controller.
  • Water deeply and infrequently. This encourages deeper roots so plants are better able to handle the heat and don’t need to be watered as often.
  • Keep your lawn longer (around 4″) during the hottest months.
  • Convert sprinklers in garden beds to drip irrigation.
  • Place an organic mulch in your garden beds to help retain moisture.

Learn how to save water in your landscape here.

Sprinkler head reuse

If you have extra sprinkler heads/supplies in working condition people will gladly take them off your hands if you post on a local marketplace.

There are not any available sprinkler head or PVC recycling options that I have found for residential gardeners; current options are for companies who go through large amounts of PVC or drip tubing.

Watering Can

Go with a galvanized steel watering can like Behrens Galvanized Metal Watering Cans. It will last longer than plastic and can be recycled when no longer usable. If you’re willing to splurge, I want to try this Gardener’s Supply Long Reach Watering Can; I have a similar version made out of plastic and loved them until they started leaking because they’re, well, plastic.

Eco-friendly lawn mowers & outdoor power equipment

Service your lawn mower and other equipment regularly to keep them running efficiently and decrease pollution.

If you are able, replace your gas-powered equipment for electric. I am a huge fan of EGO battery-operated power equipment. We own the lawn mower, snowblower, blower, edger, and string trimmer. The power might be a bit less than their gasoline counterparts, but unless you’ve doing heavy duty landscaping jobs, I don’t think it makes a huge difference. The equipment is light and easy to handle and operate, and I love not having a power cord. The batteries are interchangeable between all the equipment, and they are long-lasting and charge in about 20-30 minutes. And of course, no emissions.

Sell or donate uneeded equipment in working condition to a place like Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

Lawn mower recycling

Broken lawn mowers and other power tools can be dropped off at a scrap metal recycler. Your city may have a bulk waste collection option too.

Snow Removal

Electric snowblowers

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality estimates that operating a typical 4-stroke gasoline snow blower for one hour emits as much pollution as driving a car 339 miles. For us in Utah, this is a particularly bad combination during our winter inversion (where cold air, along with all the pollution, gets trapped by the mountains under a layer of warm air).

Ego electric snowblower

As mentioned above, I am a big fan of EGO electric equipment, and their snowblower is great. It is easy to handle and overall performs well. I’m sure it is probably not as strong as a gas-powered blower, but as I’ve never had one, I can’t compare. Ours can be a little difficult with large amounts of heavy, wet snow, but overall I am very happy with it. The battery charge also does well. We live on a corner so we have a fair amount of sidewalk, and the battery will last long enough to clear them, the two-car driveway, and the walkway to the house.

Snow shovels

Get yourself a sturdy snow shovel with a steel or aluminum blade. Plastic ones, like ours pictured, will wear out. I hate to think of the plastic particles that were shed as this shovel wore down.

Ice melt

As snow melts, the water disperses chemicals into lawns, garden beds, groundwater, and waterways. Therefore, be judicious in your use of ice melting agents and consider other alternatives.

Rock salt, aka sodium chloride, is the most commonly used ice melting agent. But more research shows that this widely-used chemical has significant environmental effects. Higher sodium levels results in increased salinity that is less hospitable to native plants and other freshwater organisms. In watershed area, these chemicals alter the quality of drinking water, becoming problematic for people who require a low-sodium diet.

Even more problematic is accumulating chloride levels in bodies of water has been shown to be lethal for fish, bugs, and amphibians. There is no natural process by which chlorides are broken down, metabolized or taken up by vegetation.

Some rock salts contain cyanide, or ferrocyanide, which is added as an anti-caking agent which can of course be problematic for both the environment and human health.

Additionally, road salt is corrosive and according to the EPA, its use results in $5 billion in annual repairs to vehicles and bridges throughout the country.

Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) such as Snow Joe Ice Melter is probably the most environmentally friendly commercial deicer available. It is less damaging to soils and vegetation, less corrosive to concrete and steel, less toxic to aquatic organisms, and has limited impact on ground water in comparison to road salt. The downside is — surprise — it is around double the price of sodium chloride.

Natural ice melt alternatives

If you can anticipate the forecast, cover small areas (such as your front steps) with heavy, waterproof plastic or a tarp.

One method gaining popularity involves spraying a salt brine solution before storms, which can lead to a 75% reduction in the amount of salt used while keeping roads just as safe, according to the Cary Institute. You can make your own brine solution, too. It needs to have a salinity of 23.3%, which is achieved by mixing 2.5 pounds of salt per gallon of water. Pickle brine also works, although I think you’d have to eat a fair amount of pickles to have enough juice.

Instead of melting ice, you can try spreading something for traction. Materials like sand, kitty litter, and bird seed are possible options.

Best practices for using deicers

  • Try to anticipate and spread deicer before snow and ice start to accumulate. This can reduce the amount of chemical needed by 30%.
  • Once snow is present, always clear it as much as possible first. Less deicer is needed and it also works quicker.
  • Rock salt is not effective in temperatures under 15 degrees F, so be aware of current conditions.
  • As with any chemical, always follow the label directions. The salt crystals should be roughly 3 inches apart. Using more isn’t more effective, just more expensive.
  • Only apply to areas that people or vehicles will be traveling. Use care to not apply too close to plants, at least 5-10 feet away.
  • Sweep up extra salt to reuse.
  • Don’t mix salt and sand. Salt is for melting and sand is for traction on top of the ice; they work against each other.
  • Do not use fertilizer for deicing.
  • Rinse pet’s paws before going inside to protect their paws, and remove shoes to protect floors and the spread of chemicals indoors.

Eco-friendly hardscaping

lit brick path at night

Asphalt & Concrete

Find a company near you that offers recycled materials such as road base, asphalt, and concrete gravel for purchase; many of these will also accept the same materials for recycling.

Did you know there is such a thing as permeable concrete that allows rainwater to seep into the ground rather than causing runoff? I wish I would’ve known this before we replaced our driveway a couple of years ago. Learn how it works here.

Pavers

Things to consider when choosing a paving material for something like a patio or garden path:

  • Recycled materials – reuse materials like bricks.
  • Permeability. Pavers that are permeable allow rainwater to drain through into the groundwater, rather than running off into sewer and stormwater drains. This article discusses the three different types of pavers: pervious, permeable, and porous. Earth911 further discusses different options.
  • Pattern. Leaving space between pavers also decreases runoff.

Stone

Stone has many uses in landscaping; large decorative stones can add some visual interest, small stones can help decrease weeds water use, and crused stone or gravel can be used for paths and other unplanted areas. But there are some environmental concerns to consider with stones.

Stone quarries can:

  • Affect air quality by creating a lot of dust pollution, as well with greenhouse gases emitted by machinery
  • Use a lot of water in the process, and release heavy metals that can pollute groundwater
  • Create deforestation
  • Produce noise pollution

Recycling hardscaping

Concrete and asphalt can be recycled. Bricks, pavers, and stones are easy to give away or sell.

Eco-friendly fencing & decking materials

bamboo fence

Consider planting a row of trees or shrubs to create a living fence. This can also serve as a windbreak. To be the most sustainable option, choose native species, especially those with low water needs. Arborvitae is a good all-around choice; there are many different varieties you can choose from, and they can tolerate some drought once established.

Composites can be a great sustainable fencing option. Trex is a composite blend made from 96% recycled wood and plastic. It can be pricey, but if it’s within your price range, it is a great ecofriendly option that is built to last. Our house has a Trex deck and we are big fans. It is sturdy and looks the same after 10 years of use.

Another composite option is Natures Composite, which is made from wheat straw and recycled HDPE. The advantage to these products is they look like real wood, but don’t require any staining.

Reclaimed wood is a great option to make use of previously used wood. If you are going to be using new wood, make sure it is FSC certified to ensure it comes from sustainably managed forests, such as Altruwood western red cedar.

Bamboo is always a solid choice since it grows so rapidly. CALI is a company that sells bamboo fencing in 6′ x 6′ rolls.

Reclaimed or antique metal fencing is another great option. Metal fencing in general is a good choice since metal can be recycled infinitely.

Disposing of old fencing

Vinyl fencing can technically be recycled, but the issue is finding a place that does this. I would ask a fencing contractor, if you’re using one. A junk hauler like Junk King may also be helpful to find recycling options for vinyl fences as well as those made of different materials.

If wood fencing is in decent shape, you may be able to donate it for reclaimed wood to somewhere like Habitat for Humanity or a local furniture maker.

Metal fencing, like chain link (but not barbed wire) can be taken to a scrap metal recycler.

Eco-friendly outdoor lighting

Infographic: Five lighting principles

*Use solar lighting when possible. Otherwise use energy-efficient LED bulbs, including for Christmas lights.

*Warm colored LEDs are around 2700 Kelvin. LEDs with color temperatures greater than 2700k emit a higher proportion of blue light that may appear brighter than warm lights. This may reduce safety by creating glare and impacting dark-adapted vision. Blue light may also adversely affect both human and wildlife health and behavior.

Use recessed and fully shielded fixtures that point their light downward, minimizing light pollution.

Infographic: Acceptable/Unacceptable lighting fixtures

Sustainable outdoor furniture

outdoor dining set

Buy the most durable pieces within your budget, avoiding plastic, hollow metal, and laminated particle board. Take care of your furniture, such as covering it or putting it in the garage during winter. For fabric pieces, if there is an option to buy Sunbrella fabric, definitely fork out the extra money and go for it; it will save you in the long run. We have purchased furniture in both fabrics, and the Sunbrella has fared remarkably better than the regular fabric, which has faded terribly and weakened.

I like this in-depth article all about patio furniture by The Honest Consumer.

Where to buy sustainable patio furniture

  • Local thrift shops, antique shops, and garage sales
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Your local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group
  • Check out Etsy’s reclaimed wood or used furniture.
  • Kaiyo, a sustainability-focused online marketplace where you can buy and sell furniture
  • Crate & Barrel – look for the FSC certified teak pieces.
  • Yardbird – uses ocean-bound plastic in hand-woven wicker, using recyclable materials and packaging whenever possible
  • Neighbor – FSC certified, OEKO-TEX certified, Fair Trade certified, pricy
  • Loll Designs – all Loll outdoor furniture is made with recycled high-density polyethylene, Cradle to Cradle 1% for the Planet member

Learn more about buying sustainable furniture here.

What to do with old patio furniture

  • Donate unwanted furniture in good condition to a thrift store, Habitat for Humanity ReStore or other non-profits such as the IRC or Big Brothers Big Sisters (or donate to them via Savers). Some of these organizations may be able to arrange pickup.
  • Give away through your local Buy Nothing or Freecycle group.
  • Sell on an online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace or companies like Kaiyo.
  • IKEA has a Buyback & Resell program where they will buy back old furniture for in-store credit and resell your used pieces second hand.
  • Hire a hauler like Junk King who will come pick up furniture from either from your curb or inside your house. Their website states they reuse, repurpose, or recycle 60% of what they haul away. Load Up is another good option.

Do your best to try all of these things in order to avoid the landfill—very few types of furniture can be recycled. Metal pieces can be recycled at a scrap yard. Other than that, unsalvageable pieces will most likely have to be taken to the landfill, unless you can find a furniture recycler in your area. Check whether your community has a bulk waste collection that accepts furniture or utilize a junk hauler.

Greener BBQ grilling

charcoal BBQ grill

Electric grills produce the least pollution, followed by gas grills, pellet grills, and lastly charcoal grills, which creates about 1/3 more emissions than gas. Follow these tips on how to grill greener.

Natural charcoal briquettes

Learn all about the different types of charcoal.

Purchase charcoal briquettes that come from natural, sustainably obtained sources. Their ashes don’t contain harmful chemicals and can also be composted.

  • Prime 6 is a reusable charcoal that is made from repurposed sawdust and nothing else.
  • FOGO sources the wood for their lump charcoal from pruned limbs and trees removed for the right amount of shade for coffee growing in Central America, and it is produced without chemicals. In the past year they have replanted 40,000 new trees.
  • Olivette is sourced from certified organic olive tree prunings, along with with pits and pulp. Also chemical-free.

If you use charcoal, skip the petroleum-based lighter fluids and self-lighting charcoal: both release toxic chemicals into the air. Instead, try lighting the briquettes with a natural product.

How to dispose of charcoal briquettes

Compost briquettes made from natural sources, otherwise they should be disposed of in the trash because they usually contain additives.

Old grills can be taken to a scrap metal recycler.

Playground equipment

children playing on a playground

There are quite a few playground companies that create products made from recycled materials.

  • Kompan playgrounds are made with either FSC certified wood or at least 75% recycled materials, like worn out fishing nest and textile waste.
  • Superior Playgrounds and Play Mart are made with 100% recycled plastic milk jugs.
  • EcoPlay Structures use 100% recycled HDPE plastic in their products.

Sell or give away when no longer needed (sniff).

Recycling metal playground equipment

Unusable metal playsets can be taken to scrap recycler, or schedule a junk hauler come pick it up for recycling.

Wood pallets

There a million reuses for wood pallets; browse some Pinterest ideas here. If none of those strike your fancy, drop it off at your local Autozone to reuse or recycle, or check with other local businesses.

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