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Is paper poisoning permaculture produce?...and the soil it's grown in?  RSS feed

 
Judith Browning
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I'm just not convinced that it's OK to use any colored paper/colored pasteboard/colored cardboard in any part of my food production, in compost, as mulch or to feed worms. But, it comes up frequently that folks are doing just that. Organic guidelines say don't use any thing with colored ink, waxes or fungicides. Even conventional gardening information says no glossy paper. There is so much information out there about possible heavy metals and other toxins in the pigments used for color....no matter whether the ink is soy or petroleum based...that I am having a hard time understanding why one would choose to use them in food production.
I am really interested in thoughts and information both for and against. Thanks.
 
Justin Hitt
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Judith,

I'm with you and don't use any colored, treated, or glossy paper in food production areas. I send it to recycling. While inks are soy based, some glossy treatments are plastics.

When I do use cardboard I make sure it is free of tape, spray paint, labels, and other materials that tend to turn up over time.

For any food production areas all inputs are pre-processed via composting, inspection, and care to prevent contamination. Nothing but chop-n-drop makes it to food production areas directly. Any diseased plants (still happens periodically) are removed to be destroyed.

I do however save wax coated fruit boxes and flats from CostCo to use to store, carry, and other utility use around garden. Will use recycled fence planks (sometimes treated) as temporary retaining walls when establishing beds or controlling erosion when materials for waddle or brush fence are not available.

Other people might put all kinds of garbage in their gardens, but it's my family and health so I'm a more careful. It's my understanding the permaculture methods would exclude anything that could build up toxicity -- but the bottom line, you are in charge of your projects, so you can decide what gets included.

Best,

Justin
 
Rick Larson
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Back in the later 80's I used cardboard to make a lasagna garden and it took years for the cardboard to compost away. Had to be something in the cardboard the bacteria couldn't break down like is normal. So I would tend to agree not to use any paper.
 
Alder Burns
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I can see several rationales for using paper products in spite of potential contamination:
1. The stuff is already here in the world. There is no "away" to send it to, even paper recycling is itself a toxic and polluting process. Someone has to deal with it, so it might as well be the people who use paper products to begin with (i.e. all of us!) If one looks at the early permaculture literature, I believe that Mollison said that if you bring something onto your land, you should take responsibility of disposing of it there. The descriptions of some of the early sheetmulch gardens are truly appalling....plastic, tin cans, old carpets and mattresses....all ended up in the garden!! Obviously one thing at play here is the balance between the health of the earth and one's personal health. Another thing at play is that a living soil, full of microbes and fungi, is one of the best processors of toxics of many sorts. Whether that soil is to be used to grow food at the same time as it is actively involved in bioremediation is the issue....
2. The other issue is that permaculture reaches a global audience, not all (perhaps even not most) of whom have the freedom and affluence to think or take action on issues more far-reaching than basic food security. In other words eating (and therefore, producing food) today and this year is more important than the risk of cancer or whatever in the long term. That might be harsh, but that's the world so many of us live in, and permaculture is about giving people in such situations proactive and productive solutions. Sheet mulching is one such solution, which enables food production in spite of otherwise impossible soil and weed issues.....
3. Additionally there is the principle that many things are permissible in system startup that are not viable to continue in ongoing maintenance. The use of earthmoving equipment and mineral-based fertilizers are well known examples in permaculture. Perhaps a one-time heavy sheetmulch; being as selective as one chooses with the materials used; to bring something like a bermudagrass sod into food production; is a good use of time and resources, and compromises made; versus the potential alternatives, and failures, and compromises, and costs, to achieve this goal by other methods.....
 
Judith Browning
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Thanks for the input. Maybe it just comes down to knowing your ingredients and their source....both in what you feed yourself and what you feed your garden so you can make mindful choices even if they end up compromises.
Mulching with mattresses and carpet and plastic...the old permaculture ideas you mentioned, Alder, remind me of sixties Rodale organic books that suggested leather dust, non-organic cotton seed meal, tobacco dust and sewer sludge as acceptable inputs in organic gardening.
I am a big advocate of taking to a recycling center what can be recycled and in my optimism expect those manufacturers to be better able to deal with toxins than me.
 
Shawn Harper
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Let me give you a real world example that I determined its better to have paper then what's under it.

I inherited a 16x26 foot bed where a locust used to be. My parents cut it and poisoned it. This was 2 years ago. Last spring I encouraged mushrooms and mulched 2 inch thick. only dandelions made it through the mulch. I then this fall covered with a bunch of newspaper. On top the news paper is about 2 inches of woodchips inoculated with my choice of mushrooms. In my case I would rather put news paper in between me and the toxic gick my parents put in the tree.
 
Allan Babb
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I'd like to see more information and facts before I discontinue using colored and glossy paper.

1) What are the chemicals being used to make it, and how are they detrimental to the soil and/or food?

2) Like oil, are there microbes that will safely break it down over time(some people recommend junk mail/glossy paper/colored ink paper for red wigglers)?

3) Are these chemicals considered heavy, like lead?

4) What types of plants are affected(root crops, leafy greens, fruits)?

5) How long does it take for these chemicals to either be digested by organisms and made inert, or move down through the soil?

6) Since we're currently in a global economy, is all glossy/colored packaging made the same?

Unfortunately, all I can find is the ubiquitous DON'T USE IT! statements with none of the why's outside of BAD!

Lack of facts doesn't stop people from perpetuating myths.
 
Judith Browning
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Allan, Your questions are very good and honestly I don't know the answers to them but they would be the ones I would want answered BEFORE I used any questionable materials to grow food.
 
Alder Burns
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Another observation.....I prefer very large cardboard boxes for sheetmulching projects since they cover more ground quickly and seem to give better grass control. For these I scrounge furniture and mattress store dumpsters. I've noticed that a lot of these products originate in China, Vietnam, Indonesia and other such places, and therefore, so does the packaging most likely. Sometimes I can see tiny colored and reflective particles in the cardboard itself and I wonder, what is that? Plastic particles perhaps? If I were a health-conscious purist I would beware of paper products originating in foreign countries with comparatively unregulated environmental and health standards....
 
Judith Browning
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Shawn Harper wrote:Let me give you a real world example that I determined its better to have paper then what's under it.

I inherited a 16x26 foot bed where a locust used to be. My parents cut it and poisoned it. This was 2 years ago. Last spring I encouraged mushrooms and mulched 2 inch thick. only dandelions made it through the mulch. I then this fall covered with a bunch of newspaper. On top the news paper is about 2 inches of woodchips inoculated with my choice of mushrooms. In my case I would rather put news paper in between me and the toxic gick my parents put in the tree.

Right, I understand that choice and I think of newspaper as less toxic than glossy colored ads, etc. and maybe cardboard less so than newspaper but I've got nothing scientific to back it up just the idea that unbleached and unpigmented has fewer contaminates.

Alder, I love the idea of dealing with whatever one brings home on ones own land...We lived for a number of years without road access and walked everything in up a quarter mile trail...sometimes with a horse or mule...we were very mindful of what we brought home and everything did get used or buried on our land. Those were the days of beer can shingles and watch towers in the outhouse. We are still careful but there is always a basket to go to recycling and no matter how hard we try, a bag of trash for the landfill. I love the 'dump' on this land that is from the thirties into the sixties...rusty metal, jars with metal lids, old iron stove parts, barbed wire and bottomless metal tubs...it sort of blends into the rocks and trees.

edit..Alder, I just saw your last post....cardboard with sparkles, great. Probably bits of our own plastic waste coming back to haunt us.
 
Justin Hitt
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Turns out that some cardboard is actually toxic. Here are some details in a past discussion at "Concerns with using cardboard/newspaper as a mulch" and a story in Science Daily "Chemicals From Recycled Cardboard May Contaminate Take-Out Food, Researchers Say"

Summary:
* Boxes MAY include formaldehyde, sulfates, and other toxins.
* Recycled content boxes are likely to have more toxins.
* Many mushrooms remove and neutralize these toxins.

Here's an article Paul Wheaton quotes from Andy Firk, "TOXIC CARDBOARD: An organic gardening expose" that has the most meat from the above conversations. But before you stop using cardboard and newspaper in your garden, I also found lots of articles and product material descriptions that show they are 100% biodegradable made with starch based glues (and soy inking.)

Here are my new rules: If the box smells, don't use it. If the box or paper is glossy, then don't use it. Remove all tape, staples, and sticky glues. Inoculate beds with microbes and spoors. Continue to compost paper materials by aging beds, shredding, or introducing earthworms before use. Keep cardboard and newspaper less than 10% total bulk material.

I don't think I'm going to be salvaging it unless I'm sure they are really clean boxes. Will still use few layers newspaper and packing paper around new plantings as protection against weeds. Will likely lean towards untreated wheat straw, or salvaged soiled straw.

Thanks for the great discussion.

Best,

Justin
 
Judith Browning
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Thanks, Justin...I think that's where I'm at. We never did use much newspaper or cardboard and I was never that comfortable with it. The paper and boxes that accumulate here are very few and we don't deliberately bring any in.
Just a little online browsing turned up quite a bit of information on colored inks...so anyone really, could make an informed decision. But informed or not, my instincts still tell me not to feed my family or my garden things I can't identify.
This conversation has got me wanting to be even more more conscientious about things that come home with me inadvertently, whether recyclables or not. I would love to hear from anyone who is managing to generate no waste by using all pasteboard, packaging, colored ads, etc on their homestead outside of food production.
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think if anything makes you concerned or nervous about putting it in the garden - don't put it in the garden! Your garden is to make you feel good, not to make you feel worried, in my opinion. Put nothing in the garden that might take away from that feeling of security and happiness.
 
Judith Browning
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think if anything makes you concerned or nervous about putting it in the garden - don't put it in the garden! Your garden is to make you feel good, not to make you feel worried, in my opinion. Put nothing in the garden that might take away from that feeling of security and happiness.

Thank you, Tyler...that is what I try to do, but sometimes I get set in my ways and in this case I wanted to make sure my narrow view wasn't getting in the way of looking at something in a different way since others are using colored papers comfortably.
 
Alder Burns
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Going in two different directions here to follow up on people:
@ Judith: I've used paper and plastic and fabric as insulation for sheds and cabins, stuffed between sheathing, inner wall, and studs or poles. Not exactly recycling, but a beneficial sequestration. Currently we mulch most paper products, recycle most hard plastics, but soft plastics, styrofoam, and bubble wrap we save for insulation projects.
@ everyone....how else is there to garden with bermudagrass? When I lived in GA we tried solarizing under plastic for entire summers, rototilling every week, penning chickens or pigs on plots for six months at a time....nothing worked....except cardboard and paper! With that, you can transplant something in....tomatoes, sweet potatoes, hills of squash....and they are given the jump for that season and can produce (while the grass forces its way through---you have to do it every year!) The 3/4 acre market garden I managed sucked down 5000# of paper and cardboard every year.....after one growing season, you couldn't tell it had been there....
 
david whyte
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I contacted the companies that send outmultipage junk mail every week and asked them if they used heavy metal based inks. I figure that contaminates that are organic (in chemistry terms) can be broken down in the composting / mulching process but heavy metals which are common indyes will build up and enter the food chain. One company got back to me with a positive tick so I use tjere stuff, the rest go into the paper recycling.

Down here in NZ we have issues with conventional farms having put so much super phosphate fertiliser on the dairy farms that we can't use blood and bone in organic systems as there is high cadmium that is in the cattle bones from the cadmium build up in the pasture from the super phosphate. Disturbingly there is now a deposition layer in local lakes that is high in cadmium. So hence I get a bit paranoid about heavy metal accumulation.
 
Judith Browning
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I like your idea of contacting the advertising source with the question about inks and pigments, David.
I notice that if magazines and newspapers use recycled paper and non-toxic printing processes , they are proud of it and will say so boldly in their publications. I guess it is similar to labeling food products...those with something to hide resist.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Alder Burns wrote:I can see several rationales for using paper products in spite of potential contamination:
1. The stuff is already here in the world. There is no "away" to send it to, even paper recycling is itself a toxic and polluting process. Someone has to deal with it, so it might as well be the people who use paper products to begin with (i.e. all of us!) Another thing at play is that a living soil, full of microbes and fungi, is one of the best processors of toxics of many sorts. Whether that soil is to be used to grow food at the same time as it is actively involved in bioremediation is the issue....
2. The other issue is that permaculture reaches a global audience, not all (perhaps even not most) of whom have the freedom and affluence to think or take action on issues more far-reaching than basic food security.
3. Additionally there is the principle that many things are permissible in system startup that are not viable to continue in ongoing maintenance. The Perhaps a one-time heavy sheetmulch; being as selective as one chooses with the materials used; to bring something like a bermudagrass sod into food production; is a good use of time and resources, and compromises made; versus the potential alternatives, and failures, and compromises, and costs, to achieve this goal by other methods.....


Alder - you are spot on with all three of these observations!

Like you say - there is no "away"! We all live under the same enclosed "dome" if you will - our atmosphere. Chemical drift, pollution, dust, etc travel thousands of miles across oceans and continents.

There are a multitude of ways of ingesting toxins, including breathing them and having them absorbed through your skin. In fact, these probably affect health more so than eating food from a sheet mulched bed that had some colored paper in it as living soils do indeed break down or bind up toxins. We really have to take a more holistic approach to how we think about toxin ingestion. In fact, I would wager that the average interior of a home is more toxic than most other environments with outgassing from various products and chemicals, etc.

In cities or near roads or commercial ag, there's tons of pollution already in the soils. "Bio-degradable" plastic bags merely pelletize into tiny plastic particles that get everywhere. There's runoff from all kinds of fluids from cars running off roads and chemicals from fields and on and on. We are in it all already. If one can use paper products to increase biomass (trees, shrubs) these will help clean the air, water and soils.

Being able to selectively use materials in a garden is a privilege much of the world's population does not have. I grew up in what was then the two poorest countries in the world - Somalia and Lesotho. Very, very little was wasted in those environments due to need. And I have always been dismayed, personally, that we in first world countries so often foist our waste off on those who have enough other problems. Therefore, for me, as a permaculturist, I feel it's my duty to do what I can to bioremediate (through healthy soil) as many products as I can. I'm limited to space living in downtown Phoenix in 1/6 acre, but I do my part. Much of permaculture is finding a way to make the problem the solution and working with what you've got.

Perhaps if you have concerns, use "suspect" paper in "junk mail swales" (see Brad Lancaster's books on water harvesting) or vertical French drains to build permeability into compacted earth, deep water trees (most chemicals don't pass into fruits of woody plants), etc.

It's up to us to find the solutions. We must be the "grand experimenters". Perhaps you could do a bed with and one without the mulch and then take soil samples to a lab for testing? It would be awesome to discover what happens with the soil over time.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I think there is a big difference between eating something, and putting it in the soil. What actually makes it into the plants, and in what amounts?

There was an experiment where they fed one group of rats a puffed breakfast cereal, and another group of rats the box the cereal came in. All cereal rats died before the box rats. (Puffing at high heats and pressures changes certain molecules into poisons.)

Now, I can't find the book I read this in right now. I will try to find it, reread it, and post the source on here.

Anyway, I would add a box of puffed breakfast cereal, box and all (but not plastic bag) to my compost pile.

I only worry about heavy metals (which never break down) non biodegradable plastics, and certain types of pathogens. It seems unlikely that significant amounts of any of these would be in cardboard. There could be a small amount of heavy metals, true; but my soil already contains 2 ppm of lead (very low.) Will the one time addition of sheet mulch bump that up to the problematic 30 ppm? Probably not. And meanwhile the boxes have smothered out poison hemlock, which I really don't want to eat.

The reason I don't worry about the other types of contaminants is that I think fungi will break them down, and I doubt plants will absorb them in large quantities.

But anyone who knows better is free to correct me.
 
Dan Boone
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Alder Burns wrote:The descriptions of some of the early sheetmulch gardens are truly appalling....plastic, tin cans, old carpets and mattresses....all ended up in the garden!


I was thinking about this thread this morning while I was working in my feral peach orchard. I finally got the last core of thorny vines cleared out of it, discovering in the process several more whippy little volunteer peach trees, as well as a whole lot of pure garbage. I found old baby food jars, a variety of glass and broken brick, the remains of somebody's auto oil change job including empty oil quarts and a used oil filter, and wrapped around the base of one of the peach trees there was even a rotting throw rug or carpet runner. (I suspect it blew across the yard in a high wind and fetched up there.)

When I went to pull up the rotten carpet, which was mostly under about an inch of soil, it extended further than I realized and one of the whippy little volunteer peach trees came up with it, hand-sized root ball and all. The roots were actually inextricably enmeshed with the fabric of the throw rug, which being partially synthetic was not as rotten as I would have expected. I had to cut a chunk (maybe four inches on a side) out of the carpet with my utility knife in order to free the tree, which I then transplanted into a container, carpet-chunk and all. Hopefully it will make it. But that rug apparently made a nice protective mulch for the peach pit that sprouted under it and right up through it!

I am however thinking of the oil change waste. You just know the used motor oil was dumped with the containers, but no sign of the petroleum remains, and the peach trees and rose-family brambles were growing strongly, mixed with verdant grass. Of course petroleum per se is just another form of organically-derived fertilizer, fossilized photosynthetic energy that many living organisms are happy to ingest. But there are a lot of unpleasant chemical additives in motor oil. I'm just impressed at how well everything grew up in the center of what was essentially a shallow garbage pile.



 
elle sagenev
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The only time I freaked out was when I spotted a box with the little toxic chemical signs on it. About fainted dead over. Then I realized my husband brought it home from work. I did throw that one away. but tons of other boxes are going to start my first corn and lettuce patches.
 
agnes doue
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My first post - I take the dailyish email. I have a trusted friend, an organic grower who successfully used colored paper in a one acre lasagne garden in Georgia. She is also a commercial photographer, and has been involved in publishing businesses for many years. She assured me that the inks are soy based and non-toxic, the reason being that the cost of disposing of chemical inks is more expensive than using the non-toxic varieties. It occurs to me that this may be only for printing originating in the USA...
 
Matt Powers
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My cardboard breaks down quickly with fungi...
 
John Lewis Morgan
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Alder Burns wrote:I can see several rationales for using paper products in spite of potential contamination:
1. The stuff is already here in the world. There is no "away" to send it to, even paper recycling is itself a toxic and polluting process. Someone has to deal with it, so it might as well be the people who use paper products to begin with (i.e. all of us!) If one looks at the early permaculture literature, I believe that Mollison said that if you bring something onto your land, you should take responsibility of disposing of it there. The descriptions of some of the early sheetmulch gardens are truly appalling....plastic, tin cans, old carpets and mattresses....all ended up in the garden!! Obviously one thing at play here is the balance between the health of the earth and one's personal health. Another thing at play is that a living soil, full of microbes and fungi, is one of the best processors of toxics of many sorts. Whether that soil is to be used to grow food at the same time as it is actively involved in bioremediation is the issue....
2. The other issue is that permaculture reaches a global audience, not all (perhaps even not most) of whom have the freedom and affluence to think or take action on issues more far-reaching than basic food security. In other words eating (and therefore, producing food) today and this year is more important than the risk of cancer or whatever in the long term. That might be harsh, but that's the world so many of us live in, and permaculture is about giving people in such situations proactive and productive solutions. Sheet mulching is one such solution, which enables food production in spite of otherwise impossible soil and weed issues.....
3. Additionally there is the principle that many things are permissible in system startup that are not viable to continue in ongoing maintenance. The use of earthmoving equipment and mineral-based fertilizers are well known examples in permaculture. Perhaps a one-time heavy sheetmulch; being as selective as one chooses with the materials used; to bring something like a bermudagrass sod into food production; is a good use of time and resources, and compromises made; versus the potential alternatives, and failures, and compromises, and costs, to achieve this goal by other methods.....


I agree with this and would just like to add... Just because YOU didn't purchase the piece of trash or bring it onto your property, that doesn't make it "go away", nor is anyone else likely to take responsibility for it and make the best possible ecological use of it. I think the beyond organic, beyond permaculture thing to do is to take as much responsibility for other peoples trash as much as possible, and make that waste stream regenerative and help it break down thousands of times more quickly than it would in a landfill. Most recycling processes are extremely toxic and energy intensive. I would like for people to get rid of the idea of sending waste "AWAY", be it to a so called recycling facility ( a brainwash) or a landfill. Take responsibility for it and use it for something good. The idea of being able to pick and choose the cleanest and best and most orgainic gardening methods is a first-world privilege. As a rule of thumb and a benchmark of truth, I ask myself "does this work as well in the third world as it does here". GO visit the third world and you will see that they have trash all over the place and in abundance, not because they consume more. I think trying to shove the waste "AWAY" and get it "out of site. out of mind" is duplicitous and destructive adn obfuscates personal responsibility.

I go out of my way to pick up used carpet to use for weed suppression, and mulch... and I take responsibility for the toxic gick (produced by others) in it and I try to minimize that impact on my property and in my own body (should it even get into my body). Basically if youi want a super clean garden and you want to obfuscate responsibility for the waste streams that are ubiqitous today , you are saying... "i'm ok with this poisoning someone else, a landfill, an ocean, but I'm too privileged to live close to garbage and i am passing off this responsibility to someone else. And i want to conscoiusly and actively ignore the presence of this waste on my planet" We are integrated with the garbage.. and we need to find ways to coexist and evolve with it if we want to pretend to call what we do "sustainable". it is here to stay and it is %100 yours and my responsibilty to utilize it and turn teh problem into solution.


"Sustainability looks like a junkyard" -JM
 
Dick Law
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I have for many years been interested/involved in mycology. Member of the Puget Sound Mycology Society. Here in Washington State we're fortunate to have one of the Global geniuses in soil remediation, paul stamets. YouTube has dozens of videos as does Ted talks. He has been involved in many competitions, specifically in removing toxins from contaminated soils, he has proved beyond any doubt that innoculating mycellia of mushrooms in the very nastiest of industrial waste contaminated soils renders them not only clean and free of toxic materials but generating an entire ecosystem as a result. My local garden store has even begun marketing Mycelated Potting soils. So, it seems if you have any concerns about using paper, cardboard,kaolin polished paper,or even inks, mushrooms or their mycelia are the answer. His book "Mycelia Running" should be in every gardeners bookshelf. You"ll be suprised how important the lowly"toadstool" is to our existence on this planet. Without them there would not be a tree taller than 4'. Dick Law
 
Max Madalinski
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I don't particularly understand the idea that seems to be getting stated a lot here that burying potentially toxic materials, that may or may not contain heavy metals, in your own soil is somehow a good idea because you are taking "responsibility" for it. If you are putting toxic stuff into your soil what happens when you die or sell your land and no one else knows where you have buried these materials? What if you happened to have a can of lead paint around? Would you use this to paint your house or bury it in the soil around your own house rather than sending it to a landfill as a means of taking responsibility for it? I guess I am personally much more inclined to send it to a landfill where at least future generations will know that this is a landfill that is filled with highly toxic junk than to bury it my own backyard where it can poison future generations.

I agree that recycling centers and landfills are disgusting pits, but I don't think burying potentially toxic materials in one's own backyard is a particularly good solution to the problem. Given that we already have numerous landfills I think it makes more sense to send things that we know are toxic into these pits, to lobby and organize against the production and use of these toxic materials, to stop purchasing and consuming these materials in the first place, and to only produce, recycle, and reuse things that we know are safe.

As for printed materials I like that people have mentioned contacting the printers to find out what materials they are using. This has the double effect of giving you more knowledge of what you might be putting into your soil and letting the producer know you're not going to put up with the use of toxic junk. I know my local paper is made from newsprint and soy based carbon black ink. I am happy to use this in my own backyard. If I suspected that an advertisement that got sent to me in the mail may have red or yellow cadmium based ink (for example), I sure as hell would not be burying it my soil.
 
John Lewis Morgan
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Max Madalinski wrote:I don't particularly understand the idea that seems to be getting stated a lot here that burying potentially toxic materials, that may or may not contain heavy metals, in your own soil is somehow a good idea because you are taking "responsibility" for it. If you are putting toxic stuff into your soil what happens when you die or sell your land and no one else knows where you have buried these materials? What if you happened to have a can of lead paint around? Would you use this to paint your house or bury it in the soil around your own house rather than sending it to a landfill as a means of taking responsibility for it? I guess I am personally much more inclined to send it to a landfill where at least future generations will know that this is a landfill that is filled with highly toxic junk than to bury it my own backyard where it can poison future generations.


In your garden, nature has a chance to use the waste and potentially clean it. In a landfill, there is little chance that mycellium and/or other living, cleaning magic happening... piling up toxins for others to clean later into a massive vat is messier to me than giving nature a chance to utilize it in an bio active aerobic environment. It's a little like saying that a feedlot is better than pasturing animals because at least then people know that it is a feedlot and they know how dirty it is.... when a feedlot is qualitatively destructive and smart grazing is qualitatively regenerative. Also, just to clarify... no one that I have read has suggested burying garbage. It is being used by the gardener and has a direct function, as well as potential indirect fuinctions that we may not be able to comprehend. Also no one is suggesting that lead paint should be buried on your property. THat's a strawman argument. By sending something like plastic to the landfill you are pretty much ensuring that the toxic waste remains toxic waste and is a debt for future generations to pay. whereas "taking responsibility" for it means you are giving the waste a best possible chance to degrade, become cleaner etc. while you get a real, tangible function from a material that is not going away, is becoming even more prevalent and abundant, and so much so that we need to adapt to its presence. The biomimicry thing to do... and the "turning problems into solutions" thing to do is to make best of use of those materials... which may, in some cases mean paying a diesel truck to move the material 100 miles away to be put i a hole with other bad stuff, because we don't know what else to do with it.


just my take

Also wanted to add... I wonder if saving seed from plants grown in relatively toxic soils would be a worthwhile venture? maybe a BPA-tolerant heirloom pumpkin?? or an arsenic-filtering paw paw??
 
Virginia Anne Lyon
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Hi. A couple of bits of information from a couple of sites: Here in Australia, this is the situation: http://www.the-compost-gardener.com/-composting-paper-is-it-safe-.html. As you'll see, glossy paper is made glossy by adding clay, and a printer acquaintance told me that the inks have been changed to non-toxic in the past decades for the health of workers in printing. And (somewhat alternatively) there was this response to a post on the U.S. situation at http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1595964/cardboard-and-newspaper-safe-to-compost dated 2007 : "First, newspaper ink is almost entirely soy-based, and non-toxic.

Second, all newsprint is not bleached, and bleached paper stock is not necessarily harmful or toxic. The cardstock my plant bands are made with are bleached board, and are completley harmless.

Third, Corrugated cartons are made with starch glues, from plant starch like Corn and Potato. They are 100% biodegradable and non-toxic.

Fourth, in this country, the conditions I describe above are mandated by state and federal legislation, and are monitored by a variety of agencies, like EPA, for manufacturer compliance.

Fifth, No nutes in paper products? Horsehockey! Many of the same nutrients, both micro and macro, found in dried leaves and sawdust or wood shavings are found in paper products. Most of the paper in newsprint and corrugation is from wood pulp. Also, the primary purpose of dry browns in compost is to provide Carbon to the composting process. It's more of an energizer than a feeding process. Nitrogen is the fuel, and Carbon is the spark.

Xerox paper, laser printer ink and inkjet ink. Most of the same legislative controls apply. You can check the composition of the inks by looking at MSDS information from the manufacturers.

Paper borne substances to avoid are shiny coatings on paper (like glossy magazines), and plastic tape on boxes. They don't belong in your compost. Brown paper tapes on cartons from many sources are now fully biodegradable, and use the same plant starch glues found in corrugation."
 
Peter Ellis
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Max Madalinski wrote:I don't particularly understand the idea that seems to be getting stated a lot here that burying potentially toxic materials, that may or may not contain heavy metals, in your own soil is somehow a good idea because you are taking "responsibility" for it. If you are putting toxic stuff into your soil what happens when you die or sell your land and no one else knows where you have buried these materials? What if you happened to have a can of lead paint around? Would you use this to paint your house or bury it in the soil around your own house rather than sending it to a landfill as a means of taking responsibility for it? I guess I am personally much more inclined to send it to a landfill where at least future generations will know that this is a landfill that is filled with highly toxic junk than to bury it my own backyard where it can poison future generations.

I agree that recycling centers and landfills are disgusting pits, but I don't think burying potentially toxic materials in one's own backyard is a particularly good solution to the problem. Given that we already have numerous landfills I think it makes more sense to send things that we know are toxic into these pits, to lobby and organize against the production and use of these toxic materials, to stop purchasing and consuming these materials in the first place, and to only produce, recycle, and reuse things that we know are safe.

As for printed materials I like that people have mentioned contacting the printers to find out what materials they are using. This has the double effect of giving you more knowledge of what you might be putting into your soil and letting the producer know you're not going to put up with the use of toxic junk. I know my local paper is made from newsprint and soy based carbon black ink. I am happy to use this in my own backyard. If I suspected that an advertisement that got sent to me in the mail may have red or yellow cadmium based ink (for example), I sure as hell would not be burying it my soil.


Some important things to think about here. All of the heavy metals that man has ever done anything with came from the earth in the first place. We do not make it (ok, factor in all of the stuff ever created in various accelerators and you might get a couple of pounds of stuff we actually made beyond what came out of the earth - effectively nothing), but what we do is concentrate it. First we concentrate it from ores to 'use' it and then when its 'use' is over, we send it off to some flavor of junk yard or other, where it concentrates again.

It is not the existence of this stuff that is hazardous, but the local concentration. In other words, the entire planet is "contaminated with heavy metals", but only rarely are natural concentrations hazardous.

What does this have to do with burying that can of lead paint in my yard, versus sending it off to the landfill? Well, that one gallon on my quarter acre is going to disperse and dissipate and the local concentration will decrease over time with leaching. But if I send my gallon, and you send yours, and the rest of the million people in our area send their gallons of lead paint to the same landfill...sound like a better idea to put all of it in one place, assuring that an area will have hazardous concentrations and that leachate from that area will be concentrated enough to be hazardous? Maybe not so much.

And as for the future of landfills - do you know what happens with them over time? How many commercial and/or industrial developments are built on landfill? How many residential communities are built on landfill?

Think about CAFO for a moment - they manage to turn one of the most natural, soil beneficial materials on earth into a hazardous waste and toxic disposal problem - by concentrating it.

Distributed disposal is probably a better idea, less hazardous over all, than centralized concentration.

Something regarding mycoremediation - It can do wonders with things like breaking down long chain hydrocarbon molecules and transforming them into harmless, even healthful, compounds. But, where heavy metals are concerned, the remediation process (whether myco or phyto) involves the organism taking up the element from the soil and capturing it in the body of the organism. I just read about a mushroom in the vicinity of Chernobyl that turns out to be doing an amazing job of pulling radioactive strontium out of the environment and locking it up (temporarily) in the body of the mushroom. The mushrooms are significantly "hotter" than the background of their location.
So they can clean up - but then they become, themselves, a problem for waste disposal. Once your mushrooms have pulled up the heavy metals you need to do something with that...

As for the idea that not keeping it on your own property for disposal is just passing the buck and not taking responsibility - The real focus should not be on making people feel inadequate for not taking responsibility for stuff they have limited control over, but on trying to get the parties producing the dubious materials to stop doing it. Until we can get them to stop producing the stuff, disposing of it is all a shell game. Trying to burden people with guilt over handling that waste is not something I consider productive.
 
Max Madalinski
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I have to disagree about spreading out heavy metals as a better solution. The main reasons I disagree are that heavy metals will persist in soils for long periods of time without leaching or dispersing (there are still high quantities of lead in soil around barns and farmhouses that haven't been painted with lead since the 1920s) and that even if the levels are in much smaller quantities, very small quantities of these metals can have damaging and long term effects on children. Maybe I'm slightly exaggerating by bringing lead into the conversation as no one uses lead on cardboard or newsprint, but this is by no means a straw man's argument since one of the materials we are discussing are inks that may contain heavy metals which persist in the soil in much the same way as lead and can have similarly damaging effects. The specific material that I mentioned is Cadmium (though I am sure there are other toxic heavy metals that have been used as ink pigments), which I know from years I spent studying printmaking, has been used in red and yellow inks. I don't know if this is still common practice, but if I wasn't sure about the contents of a material I personally would not put it into my own garden bed.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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I would definitely not add lead to the soil. That being said, how much lead could be in a single layer of newsprint or cardboard? Enough to raise the soil amount of lead by one PPM? Well, background levels of lead are commonly as high as 50 PPM, which is considered harmless. So if you have a background of 10, and newspaper raised it to 11, it might not make a big difference.

Think about how small the layer of news paper is in comparision to the amount of soil in the top foot of the area in question: then think about how small a part of the paper (if any) is lead.
 
raven ranson
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Great thread, what fascinating points of view.

This thread makes me very glad I don't use much mulch. It's not because I'm a soil hating, irresponsible gardener, it's just that all these wonderful benefits of mulch don't happen here due to the weather patterns. I know, I've tried. But that's a topic for another thread. I do however use newspaper to line my household compost bucket (and thus it's added to the compost). It also got me thinking about the wood/paper ash I put on my garden... wouldn't that concentrate certain toxins?


What does this have to do with burying that can of lead paint in my yard, versus sending it off to the landfill? Well, that one gallon on my quarter acre is going to disperse and dissipate and the local concentration will decrease over time with leaching. But if I send my gallon, and you send yours, and the rest of the million people in our area send their gallons of lead paint to the same landfill...sound like a better idea to put all of it in one place, assuring that an area will have hazardous concentrations and that leachate from that area will be concentrated enough to be hazardous? Maybe not so much.


I have a question. Please forgive me for being naive here, the situation to do so has never occured for me. Why are we burying/getting rid of a can of paint instead of painting something? I understand lead paint not so good inside or near living space, but I'm sure there are other things that need painting.

As for what to do with those old labelless paint cans that are stashed away in the corner of a house when you buy it, some cities have free drop off for paint cans (full and empty) where they (claim to) recycle the paint. Where I am, it's illegal to send paint to the trash or to bury it on your land, lead or otherwise. But free paint recycling, and some shops even offer paint buy-back for anything leftover from your painting project.

There is talk about requiring an environmental assessment when you sell your house/land/farm, even for personal dwellings. This includes looking for certain soil contaminants, like from buried paint and other waste. So even if we didn't have free paint recycling, I would be inclined to save my old paint until a service became available.

I don't know what this environmental assessment thing will mean for people who use manufactured mulches like carpet and a lot of cardboard/paper on their farm. I don't even know if it will pass, or if it does, if it will be of any use to the environment. It seems very much a political play.

 
Peter Ellis
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Max Madalinski wrote:
I have to disagree about spreading out heavy metals as a better solution. The main reasons I disagree are that heavy metals will persist in soils for long periods of time without leaching or dispersing (there are still high quantities of lead in soil around barns and farmhouses that haven't been painted with lead since the 1920s) and that even if the levels are in much smaller quantities, very small quantities of these metals can have damaging and long term effects on children. Maybe I'm slightly exaggerating by bringing lead into the conversation as no one uses lead on cardboard or newsprint, but this is by no means a straw man's argument since one of the materials we are discussing are inks that may contain heavy metals which persist in the soil in much the same way as lead and can have similarly damaging effects. The specific material that I mentioned is Cadmium (though I am sure there are other toxic heavy metals that have been used as ink pigments), which I know from years I spent studying printmaking, has been used in red and yellow inks. I don't know if this is still common practice, but if I wasn't sure about the contents of a material I personally would not put it into my own garden bed.


Well, here is the thing, Max. Heavy metals are already in the soil, in the rocks, etc. That is where we got them from. They are only hazardous when they reach certain concentrations. Any disagreement so far?

Putting all the potentially toxic stuff, especially the stuff that is only toxic above certain concentrations, together in one place does not remove that stuff from the environment. Remove it from your personal space? yes. Make it less of an environmental problem? not really.

When you apply the ethics of permaculture - Earth care, people care, return of surplus, to the issue of disposing of potentially toxic materials, it seems to me that the first two are relevant, the third not so much. What is the best way to care for the earth and for people? Concentrate the poisons into one area, assuring that the earth there will be really severely damaged and that people who live or work in that area will be exposed to high concentrations? Or would it make more sense to break down those that can be broken down, by the most efficient and lowest impact methods available (which, I think, are probably small scale myco and phyyto remediation) and avoid concentrating those that cannot be broken down, like the heavy metals, so as not to achieve toxic levels in any area?
 
Max Madalinski
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I'm not arguing that sending toxic materials to a landfill is a good solution. I just don't think spreading it out if you are unsure of how this is going to affect the concentration levels in your soils is a better solution. If you're unsure of the effects of something on your own soil why take that risk? My initial argument was mainly that we should not be trying to localize responsibility for things like heavy metals.

Of course materials are only unsafe when they reach certain concentrations, but the concentration levels that are considered "safe" can and have changed over time when new research shows that levels previously believed to be safe were not so safe after all. I'm not personally going to test the contents of every bit of material that I choose to put into a sheet mulch bed. As such I don't know what the concentration levels are in detail and if I can't say for sure that I'm not going to be making my soils unsafe why would I try and use these materials onsite? Maybe I should be looking for more creative solutions for using materials that are sent to me that may contain toxins. I am certainly doing everything I can to not consume the junk mail, plastics, heavy metals, etc. and not encourage the problem. However if I encounter these materials I am not going to use them in my gardens for the reasons that I have stated.
 
chad Christopher
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The aroma of tacoma, nuff said for those who have experienced it.
 
John Lewis Morgan
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As for the idea that not keeping it on your own property for disposal is just passing the buck and not taking responsibility - The real focus should not be on making people feel inadequate for not taking responsibility for stuff they have limited control over, but on trying to get the parties producing the dubious materials to stop doing it. Until we can get them to stop producing the stuff, disposing of it is all a shell game. Trying to burden people with guilt over handling that waste is not something I consider productive.




I don't think anyone is focusing on making others feel inadequate, but I know for my own part that I want for others to feel empowered... sometimes that comes off as guilting to certain people... to me it sounds empowering. I hear... "there's more I can easily do to help be the change... great! what an opporonity" as opposed to responding with " Ohhh, Im not doing enough... I'm going to feel bad and continue " ... It's a question of whether or not a person can hear constructive criticism and change opinions based on new ideas... has nothing to do with guilt: that construct exists in the listener.

on socio-political ethics here:

Responsibility is always, always, always on the demand side. The only way they would stop producing the materials is if the demand stopped because of better alternatives. The idea of getting producers to "stop producing the dubious materials" is like trying to get people to stop drinking with prohibition. The only way to do something like that is with authoritarianism, which is bad and never really works. People have the power. And again I gotta say that's passing the buck from "me" to "we", where "we" equals big, oppressive government instead of focusing on "me", my role and living by example. By taking responsibility for the waste you are doing your part plus some other waste producers (the consumer, NOT the producer) part, and that is empowering, postitive and regenerative... not guilting, or making people feel inadaquate or negative. If someone feels guilty, maybe they should "tit up"

The waste is NOT going away... Just trying to be real
 
Bradley Springer
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Paper products are comparatively benign. If you have the means to mulch with natural products already on site, then great. Most of us are starting from scratch and we have to use what's available to us. I have a source for non glossy cardboard, so I use it heavily in sheet mulching. My only other options are straw and wood chips, but both cost money and fuel and may contain pesticides.

I'll take my chances with cardboard.

We have to keep the benefits vs risk/harm in perspective. You could mulch the desert with 2 feet of compostable garbage to retain water. Some would protest this as horrible thing to do, and others would embrace the garbage because it's a low risk waste stream achieving huge benefits.
 
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