Hydroponics – or the practice of growing plants using only water, nutrients, and a growing medium – has been around for thousands of years, but modern-day technology has allowed for major advancements in this space. Today, hydroponics is poised to become the farming system of the future, with over 2,300 hydroponic farms in the US alone and a global industry value of $9.5 billion.
But even though many people turn to hydroponics for the environmental benefits – namely water conservation – there is an important question you should be asking yourself to ensure your setup is as sustainable as possible: what’s the environmental impact of your growth medium?
Because hydroponic systems don’t require soil, they enable growers to use other types of growing media, including things like perlite, coco coir, expanded clay pellets – also known as LECA – and growstones. Although these media are all effective for hydroponic use, they are not equal when it comes to their environmental impact.
Perlite is very popular because it is lightweight and inexpensive, but it is not a renewable resource and the dust from it has a negative impact on health if inhaled. Coco coir is sustainable and environmentally friendly in every way, but because it offers poor drainage, it is infrequently used without other media.
LECA is a CO2-intensive product. It is produced in a high-temperature kiln and made overseas, so there are significant emissions resulting from the manufacturing and transportation processes. In addition, the clay used for LECA is retrieved as a by-product of strip mining, which is an incredibly harmful practice that causes a lot of environmental damage.
With these downsides in mind, Growstones used to be the best option, as they were efficient and made from recycled glass. Growstones, however, ceased operations in 2019. Fear not, as there is a new version of Growstones on the market. It’s called Smart Gravel, and it’s made entirely from non-recyclable plastics. For each 1 gallon bag of Smart Gravel, the equivalent of 1,000 bottle caps has been removed from the environment.
Not only is Smart Gravel the greener option, but it’s also pH neutral, inert, ready to use out of the bag (no cleaning necessary), reusable and recyclable. Using it as the growing medium for your hydroponic system is a guaranteed success, and with all the benefits, it’s the right time to say goodbye to all those materials that have the potential to harm the environment and hello to Smart Gravel.