Plastic vs. Metal Leaf Rakes

By Liesl Clark

If you’re a regular reader of Trash Backwards, you might already know the answer we’ll have for this question — metal wins! So what is our judging criteria? It’s not just sustainability and end-of-life scenerios that we’re taking into consideration.

Two plastic rakes, not very old, both just about useless. Photo © Liesl Clark

Two plastic rakes, not very old, both just about useless. Photo © Liesl Clark

When you buy a rake, you’ll likely want your money’s-worth, i.e. you’d like your rake to be effective and last a good long time. As we know from our studies of plastics in the ocean, plastics photodegrade, they break down into smaller pieces over time, and most will never ever go away. Plastic rake tines are no exception. With repeated sun exposure and certainly in the cold, plastic rakes become more brittle and crack and break over time. My backyard trials have proven they’ll do this rather quickly. The 2 rakes photographed above were bought at the same time, about 1.5 years ago. The green one lost 2 center tines early in its life and then cracked at the point where the wooden handle meets the plastic rake. The orange rake lost 2 side tines and is now cracking down the middle of the rake. I figure we’ll get another couple of months out of it. We do a lot of leaf raking around here.

Leaf Dreams. Do you see the face in there? Photo © Liesl Clark

Leaf Dreams. Do you see the face in there? Photo © Liesl Clark

So what kind of rake do we prefer? A working and sustainable one that won’t stay on the planet forever, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces and entering our waterways over time. I know that sounds extreme, but this is what plastics do. They’re buoyant and are doomed to become microplastics one day.

Introducing my favorite rake. Metal, and about 10 years old. It gets all jobs done. Photo © Liesl Clark

Introducing my favorite rake. Metal, and about 10 years old. It gets all jobs done. Photo © Liesl Clark

A metal rake may be a little more expensive, but it will likely last longer as a useful rake than your plastic one and when it has reached the end of it’s useful life, you can recycle the metal part and reuse the wooden handle for replacing the wooden handle of another garden tool, like another rake or a shovel. Metal rake tines can rust but the rust won’t deter you from raking. If they bend, they can be bent back!

Backside of another very old metal rake (likely 8 years old). The one bent tine can easily be bent back into place. Photo © Liesl Clark

Backside of another very old metal rake (likely 8 years old). The one bent tine can easily be bent back into place. Photo © Liesl Clark

Some landscapers prefer plastic rakes for heavy wet leaf raking and metal ones for dry lighter-weight jobs. I’ve used both for both jobs and don’t notice much of a difference. Even bamboo rakes can tackle both jobs well. My favorite bamboo rake is nearing the end of it’s life (probably because I left it out in the rain too often) but every part of it can be reused: We’ll compost the bamboo, the metal will go in our local scrap metal bin for recycling, and we’ll save the handle for replacing that metal rake we’ve been meaning to mend.

Our zero waste bamboo rake is nearing the end of it's life. Photo © Liesl Clark

Our zero waste bamboo rake is nearing the end of it’s life. Photo © Liesl Clark

Here's the metal rake I need to mend. The handle broke off but the head keeps on working! It's been a nice child-sized rake, but I'm selfish, I want it back! Photo © Liesl Clark

Here’s the metal rake I need to mend. The handle broke off but the head keeps on working! It’s been a nice child-sized rake, but I’m selfish, I want it back! Photo © Liesl Clark

So when you look at the end-of -life options for your leaf rake, metal and bamboo rakes definitely win out. But before you recycle them, you might want to hang on to your rake head when you see all the beautiful reuses for them in our Trash Backwards app:

Click Through For Metal Rake Reuses at Trash Backwards

Click Through For Metal Rake Reuses at Trash Backwards

Do you have a favorite rake or rake reuse to share? Please let us know and we’ll input your idea into the app.

Retirement home for our old garden tool heads? The veggie garden fence. Photo © Liesl Clark

Retirement home for our old garden tool heads? The veggie garden fence. Photo © Liesl Clark

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Categories: Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use

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  1. 10 Toughest Steps to Reduce Your Plastic Impact | Trash Backwards - February 28, 2013

    [...] bought like pencil sharpeners, colanders, cheese graters (ones with plastic handles break), rakes, rubber spatulas (that’s why they call them rubber and the wooden handles are nicer to hold), [...]

  2. Fix Your Tools with Broken Handles | Trash Backwards - March 17, 2013

    [...] Repairing our tool handles runs in the family. By observation, our 9-year-old was able to carve his own handle for a broken rake. [...]

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