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toxins inert in Non-Organic Compost?  RSS feed

 
Andrew Michaels
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I was talking to an organic farmer the other day, telling him that I maintained an organic compost pile for organic waste and an non organic pile for stuff that's got chemicals on it. I usually just give away the non organic compost, because I don't want to put it on my garden.

He told me, however, that the chemicals in the non organic waste are broken down during the composting process and become inert, and so are ok to put on my garden. Is this true?

Any insight welcome.

Thanks,
-Andrew
 
Jordan Lowery
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from my knowledge some are and some are not. it depends on how nasty the chemical was. as to which ones can and which ones cant, i can not say.
 
Jennifer Smith
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My father says that what comes out of a worm is clean of most all toxic compounds...true?  He thinks they are most amazing creatures.
 
Fred Morgan
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I know in our zone we won't use compost made of pineapple waste. I won't even eat a pineapple that isn't grown organically. For the big companies who grow pineapple, it is about as opposite to permaculture as you can have. When you are finished growing pineapple, that land is considered worthless for the next 5 to 8 years due to the toxicity of the soil.

A compost pile will get hot, but not enough to burn off all pesticides and chemicals.
 
Leah Sattler
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as others said. some break down some don't. many pesticides and such are designed (supposedly) to not persist for long in the enviroment. the question becomes ....one......are they telling the truth...two....is it the case in a real world enviroment....three.....are they testing the carriers/inert ingredients also? easier to keep them seperate if you are concerned. I compost very little store bought things so the amount of non organic items that go into it is a very small proportion....mostly just some goat/pony poo from critters that ate non organic alfalfa, and some vegies, so I don't worry about it.

there is a certain number of natural compounds in everyday untreated soil that might be considered not so healthy. chemical are not the exclusivel realm of humans. for me I consider a certain amount of exposure to chemicals both natural and man made just part of life and very possibly neccessary to simulate/excercise our defensive mechanisms in the body to keep them ready for unavoidable and more dangerous exposures. my personal choice is to reduce exposure without losing sleep over it.
 
paul wheaton
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I think I would give my non-organic compost to the farmer that wants it and I would not use it myself.

And i would choose not to buy stuff from that particular farmer.  I would rather buy stuff from a farmer with a higher standard.

 
Jennifer Smith
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Would you use non organic compost on a lawn?  Less chance of it being in the food supply maybe.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Some of the problems with a non-organic method are quite literally elemental: they result in high levels of elements that your body doesn't handle very well.

One example: Polonium (famous for its use to poison a Russian journalist) is included in the fertilizer spread on tobacco fields, and so radiation from that fertilizer is one of the many ways cigarettes can cause cancer.

http://www.webspawner.com/users/radioactivethreat/

Problems with metals like lead and arsenic and cadmium are similarly not solved by composting.

As mentioned earlier in this thread, there are a few broad classes of agricultural chemical that behave very differently in the compost pile.  The only class I know of that a natural community of compost organisms cannot chemically rearrange is halogenated hydrocarbons.  These are things like PCBs, dioxin, agent orange, DDT, and, in recent news, aminopyralid and clopyralid.  There are also halogenated hydrocarbons that aren't used as poisons, such as sucralose (Splenda) and Freon and Teflon; the fact that they are so stable is, IMHO, a problem in itself, but I offer them here as examples of just how much variety exists within this broad category.

There have been reports of compost contaminated with aminopyralid and clopyralid killing legumes and other broad-leaf plants.  I haven't heard of any harm coming to grasses due to this sort of issue.

If the non-organic method didn't add radionuclides or toxic heavy metals, and the grower in question hasn't used halogenated hydrocarbons or halogens (chlorine and bromine sometimes form durable compounds when exposed to organic matter; I believe some potatoes are grown in soil that has been sterilized with bromine), then I can't see a difference between how organic and non-organic compost would effect your garden.

As Paul hinted, the real difference may not be in the effect the compost, but the causes of the compost; not downstream of the decomposition, but upstream of it. 
 
                    
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Microbes can break down halogenated hydrocarbons. Fungi are used for bioremediation - they excrete peroxidase enzymes that will reduce the concentrations of those compounds. How much of a reduction is there? That depends. 

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Wow, you're right!

www.ciwmb.ca.gov/publications/Organics/44200015.doc

Nature finds a way, of course. 

I guess the problem with killer compost is that the pesticide in question works even at minuscule concentrations (~10 ppm).
 
paul wheaton
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I see sick people. 

What makes them sick? 

Our food is loaded with toxic gick that some folks say is "safe".  I have to wonder if the safe levels of toxic gick could be making people sick, only the connection has not yet been made.  Once the connection is made, some form of toxic gick will be banned.  In the mean time, 100 new forms of toxic gick are okay to add. 

And a lot of this stuff can float around in our compost and pass through an animal's innards and still be in their poop.  Bioremediation fixes a lot of stuff, but not all of it. 

I just like the idea of starting with really good soil and really good organic matter and maybe some fungus going to town on that will move it from "good" to "better" rather than moving it from "toxic" to "not as toxic".

"Organic" is  a standard.  I'm glad that we have a standard and we can draw a line somewhere.  I like the idea of a much higher standard.  I wish there was a word and a definition so we can think of it as a goal:  flibbertygibbit standard.  Organic is cool with cardboard as a mulch.  Flibbertygibbit is not.  Organic is cool with using any manure from ruminents; flibbertygibbet has strict standards about what those animals were eating, their medications, their pasture and bedding situation.  Flibbertygibbet requires polyculture and has strict rules about tilling that leads to soils going decades without being tilled.

(I thought I made up the word "flibbertygibbet", but I just now googled and it turns out to be a real word!)

So!  I would choose to not use that compost.  But, that's just me.


 
Jennifer Smith
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As my father says, "Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean you are not on to something".
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:
"Organic" is  a standard.   I'm glad that we have a standard and we can draw a line somewhere.  I like the idea of a much higher standard.   I wish there was a word and a definition so we can think of it as a goal


One of the things I like least about the term "organic" is that it's based in vitalism:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitalism

It think something that approaches more closely to Paul's desired goal is "biodynamic," but that has its roots in anthroposophy, which he might have some qualms about.

This all speaks to a very fundamental problem in human existence: It is very difficult to get enough information to make a good decision.  When you cut away bad stuff, how far away from the obvious bad stuff do you cut?

I guess it is worthwhile to throw away perfectly good things, if the subtle differences between them and bad things are too difficult to suss out and the other option would be accepting bad things.  It seems kind of tragic to throw tomatoes away because nighshades are, as a rule, poisonous, or to snub foreigners because one cheated you one time.  But it's sometimes hard to get good information on this kind of thing.

I'm fine with petrochemical waxes and dyes in my compost, but I'd be a bit nervous about sepp holzer's animal-repellent bone tar.  But that's based on my education, which wasn't complete in these matters, and started from principles that many people here have valid reasons to reject.

I bet over the next few decades, a stricter standard will develop; I bet its name will have something to do with "organic;" I bet there will be two or more camps that relate to one another in a way that resembles kosher vs. halal.
 
Leah Sattler
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paul wheaton wrote:
I see sick people. 

What makes them sick? 

Our food is loaded with toxic gick that some folks say is "safe".  I have to wonder if the safe levels of toxic gick could be making people sick, only the connection has not yet been made. 



that is what has brought me to where I am today in my thinking. I believe there is alot of stuff making people sick. but as long as those things take a significant amount of time to present the symptoms or disease then the connection is not made because it is impossible to do long term controlled studies in humans. hence we are left with analyzing data that is gathered in retrospect which is very difficult and subject to major interpretation.

but I guess I am a little less paranoid in that I also believe people got sick before the advent of all this nasty stuff in our food. and those things that made people sick before suffer from the same problems of discovery as anything. I believe and their is plenty of evidence, that there are a whole lot of naturally occuring things that can make people sick too if utilized in large quantities especially. back when those things were every day exposures people often didnt' even live long enough to experience the consequences of the toxins in the naturally gathered food that sustained them. so my conclusion is.........we can't know everything about the safety of everything  in our lives. so I avoid what I consider the likely culprits and major concentrated exposures, direct food additives, direct pesticide and herbicide use on or near the food i am going to eat etc.... other wise I would go crazy because I can see the possiblity for danger everywhere including in natural food stuffs.

black pepper contains carcinogens
http://www.csun.edu/~hfoao102/press_releases/summer04/carcinogens.html

beans contain lectins
http://www.krispin.com/lectin.html

cooked meats have been strongly associated with stomach cancer
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/heterocyclic-amines

this is interesting though it lacks any references
http://www.fortfreedom.org/s15.htm

grazing certain plants can infect the meat and milk of animals as well as drinking herbal teas. comfrey is mentioned here specifically as containing Pyrrolizidine alkaloid
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyrrolizidine_alkaloid

I don't get too far into researching this stuff....because like I said...i would lose my mind...... so take it for what it is and research for yourself if something bothers you that you don't want to compost even if it is natural.

I would suggest that anything that is going to make up a large part of your composting material be researched a bit whether it is natural or not. 








 
 
                    
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paul wheaton wrote:
Bioremediation fixes a lot of stuff, but not all of it. 


Yes, I agree. We need to make personal decisions about what is likely to be significantly contaminated, and what is or will be clean enough to feed to our plants, our selves, our friends and family.  Ideally, nasty chemicals will not be used and materials to compost and mulch will be clean. 
 
paul wheaton
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Biodynamic is cool stuff, but I want to embrace a lot of their stuff and skip some.  And I want to add a lot more stuff. 

 
Joel Hollingsworth
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paul wheaton wrote:Biodynamic is cool stuff, but I want to embrace a lot of their stuff and skip some.  And I want to add a lot more stuff. 


Emilia Hazelip coined "synergistic gardening," which did precisely that, although probably not precisely as you would've. 

As I understand it, in a nutshell it's "biointensive minus moon/planets plus a mediterranean-climate adaptation of Fukuoka's natural farming plus ruth stout minus nudism."

At any rate, that term doesn't seem to have an orthodoxy yet, and so refining its definition is probably still possible.
 
paul wheaton
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Which one has the nudism?

I suppose I could embrace a lot of that but ....

sepp holzer says something about "holzer permaculture is different from permaculture":  my interpretation of that is that he is optimizing long term communication - avoiding statements like "you can't do that because ruth stout says ...." so, instead he says "this is what I do".

So, I suppose, at some point, I should make a web page that says "Here is what I do, which takes my favorite bits from ruth stout, biodynamics, permaculture and a hundred other schools of thought." thus making no commitment to follow any one so purely that it is used as a weapon against you.



 
Matt Powers
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Do you know if we can just add our names to Permaculture and have it be legally unique? Or do we have to create a jargon that's uniquely ours and usually more awkward with each attempt to Be Unique! I like PowersPermakultur, but is that kosher? I know there's a copyright nazi in a lot of people hiding just waiting to come out & say that's MY EASILY COPIABLE CONCEPT!
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