Is It Safe To Plant Vegetables In Plastic Containers? Types of Plastic You Can Use


Container gardens are the perfect solution to growing fresh fruit and vegetables with limited space but having concerns about planting food in plastic containers is understandable. It’s important to know what types of plastic planters are safe to grow food in.

It is safe to plant vegetables in plastic containers that are made from PET, HDPE, LDPE, PP, or PLA. These plastics will be marked with 1, 2, 4, or 5. These container types of containers are considered food safe and are suitable for growing food.

Growing vegetables in container gardens can be simple, but knowing which plastics are safe and which are not is essential. Knowing how to identify which plastics are best for planting vegetables will also simplify the process of starting a container garden. 

Vegetable seedlings are planted in recycled plastic bottles. Planted in a bottle. Plastic recycle
ID 119793582 © Santipong Chayjanya | Dreamstime.com

Which Plastic Containers Are Safe For Growing Vegetables?

All types of plastic leach chemicals into soil and water, especially when exposed to heat and sunlight for long periods, which the roots of a plant may absorb. 

However, the amount of these chemicals in food-safe plastics is not enough to be absorbed into the stems and leaves of the plant, so they cannot cause any harm to the plant or humans when the vegetables are consumed. This factor means that any plastic marked as food-safe will not release enough chemicals to affect your vegetables.

If you are interested in building your own hydroponic garden, check out my article, Is PVC Safe for Hydroponics, for all the details on what plastics you can use in a DIY hydroponic setup.

Different Types Of Plastic

Knowing which type of plastic to use is essential because there are many types of plastic to choose from, but not all are considered safe to plant vegetables in.

  • PET (Polyethylene terephthalate). This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 1 on the bottom. These are clear plastic bottles like water bottles. 
  • HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene). This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 2 on the bottom. These are opaque milk and food bottles.
  • PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 3 on the bottom. Examples of this plastic would be cling wrap or softer plastic bottles. 
  • LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene). This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 4 on the bottom. These are squeeze bottles that are used for sauces. 
  • PP (Polypropylene). This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 5 on the bottom. These are reusable cups and bowls, such as Tupperware.
  • Polystyrene. This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 6 on the bottom. Examples of this plastic would be Styrofoam and unnumbered plastics. 
  • Polycarbonate. This type of plastic is marked with a triangle and the number 7 on the bottom. These are baby bottles and sippy cups. 
  • PLA. This type of plastic is biodegradable, making it food-safe and perfect for growing vegetables. It is made from corn or sugar cane.

Which Types Of Plastic Are Food-Safe?

Having so many different types of plastic can make it challenging to choose which type of plastic to use to start a container garden. The following types of plastic are all suitable to grow food in, and they give you a large variety to decide which type suits you the best.

#1. PET. Clear plastic bottles are considered food-safe and would be safe to plant vegetables in.

#2. HDPE. Cloudy milk and food bottles are food-safe and would be safe to plant vegetables in.

#4. LDPE. Clear sauce bottles are considered food-safe and would be safe to plant vegetables in.

#5. PP. Reusable cups and bowls are considered food-safe and would be safe to plant vegetables in.

PLA. Since this plastic is made from organic matter, it is considered food-safe and safe to plant vegetables in.

When buying plastic planters, double-check what sort of plastic they are made of, the number should be marked on the bottom. Not all planters are made of food-safe plastics and many that are for sale on Amazon don’t specify the type of plastic it’s made of.

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Which Types Of Plastic Are Not Food-Safe?

Although there are many options available for growing vegetables, the following types of plastics are not food-safe and are not suitable for starting a container garden. 

 #3. PVC. Cling wrap and PVC containers are not considered food-safe because they contain phthalates.

 #6. Polystyrene. These plastics are not considered food-safe because they leach styrene into soil and water, which is toxic.

 #7. Polycarbonate. These plastics are not considered food-safe because they may contain BPA. 

Effects Of Plastic Containers On The Environment

Growing vegetables in the correct food-safe plastic containers will not affect the produce or the health of the people who consume the vegetables; however, this practice may have long-term effects on the environment because all plastics leach chemicals into soil and water.

Even though it isn’t enough to be absorbed by vegetables, it would still affect soil and water, end up in rivers, the ground, and eventually, the atmosphere. Small amounts of chemicals can build up over time and have a lasting effect on nature.

Alternative to Plastic Containers to Grow Plants

While plastic is one of the most convenient and cheap materials available it may not be the best option for someone who is very mindful of their environmental impact. Some of my favorite options are wood, glass, ceramic and terracotta.

  • Wooden Planters – tend to be higher maintenance. Natural wood containers will need to be oil to prevent drying and cracking.
  • Glass Jars– can provide an interesting view of the roots system. Glass is fragile so extra care must be taken.
  • Ceramic Planters – are found in an array of colors and patterns. One of the most common types of planter.
  • Terracotta Planters – while similar to ceramic planters, terracotta planters are unfinished on the outside. The soil in terracotta planters tends to dry out faster.

If you have a container that doesn’t have drainage holes check out my article, Planters without Drainage Holes – What to Put in Them.

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Advantages Of Planting Vegetables In Plastic Containers

Container gardens are not only pleasing to look at; they have so many advantages that make them the perfect gardening option for absolutely anybody to grow any food of their choice. 

  • Container gardens are more structured and organized.
  • The containers can be moved around, which would be ideal in bad weather conditions or in the case of moving homes. 
  • Container gardens make it possible to grow vegetables, even if the soil in your in-ground garden is poor or not suitable for what you’d like to grow. 
  • Gardening in containers makes it possible for people who only have balconies or patios to grow vegetables.
  • Controlling pests is much easier in containers. 

Disadvantages Of Planting Vegetables In Plastic Containers

A container garden is incredibly convenient, but it does have certain aspects that may require a little extra attention.

  • Container plants need to be watered more regularly because they dry out more easily.
  • The soil cannot have air or water move through it in plastic containers, which is not good for the plant’s root system.
  • Soil may become damp and overheat on summer days, which is bad for a plant’s root system.
  • A plant’s size is determined by the size of the container, which means that a small container may restrict the growth of plants. 

Final Thoughts

Growing your vegetables and knowing what’s gone into the process is such a great feeling and what’s better is knowing that your fresh food isn’t filled with chemicals that will negatively affect your health.

When you ensure the plastic containers you use are food-safe, it’s very simple to grow fresh, chemical-free vegetables that are safe for everybody to enjoy, straight from your plastic containers.

Diane Davies

Diane started out with a not so green thumb. After experimenting with different plants and methods of gardening, she was introduced to the Tower Garden and aeroponics. Now she loves to grow her own food easily on her balcony.

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