Mulch Pollution

Pile gone!  

Let us think for a moment about something very sad:  mulch pollution.  I use a high quality mulch.  Poor quality mulch will have quite a bit of broken glass and plastic trash mixed in with it.  Sadly, nowadays even high quality mulch has that, too.  Very small bits, and not very much, but it is impossible to remove it all.   It's not just happening to mulch.  

Our oceans, our beaches, our forests, our soil, our entire planet is becoming polluted with bits of plastic.  Paper quickly decomposes, broken glass becomes smooth pebbles, but plastic will last for thousands of years.  

Not very much trash in six yards of quality mulch, but...
When you tear even a little corner off a candy bar wrapper and let it slip through your fingers, or if the water bottle you toss into a bin misses and falls into the gutter, it's going to be around a long time, poisoning our planet, making our planet ugly.  What will plastic trash do for tens of thousands of years? 

Please, let's be careful with plastic.  

Comments

  1. Argh, such a complex ethical quandary, no- or low-harm/impact ornamental gardening, and apart from potable water use and pesticide applications with associated run-off I can think of nothing more contentious than how we treat our soil (which is, as you say, also a metaphor for how we abuse the world around us and the air and soil and waterways we collectively rely on).

    I live adjacent to dwindling dairy country that was once renowned for its topsoil, and I still partake now and again or buy a few scoops of biosolids, tested and certified, to amend more sterile media, but for mulch I've always relied heavily on crushed rock and gravel because soil infertility with a porous texture tends to be more compatible with my plant palette of choice. I've been slowly transitioning to making leaf mould and "small batch" compost myself, for a few light applications throughout the year to address hydrophobia and increase water retention by a smidge and have lately begun bartering heavily with vermicomposters living in my neighborhood because side-dressing with worm goo seems to do wonders for the kinds of plants that would resent manure or swiftly decline with osmocote. I'm also resigned to regularly allowing a little strip of meadow in my backgarden, irrigated during the rainy season through a swale, to mostly die off, be replaced with a short-lived and non-invasive cover-crop, and then be revived and resown with whatever grass and flower seed I manage to harvest and store properly. It's harder work, of course, but inexpensive, not particularly fussy during active growing, counteracts some of the heat generated by adjacent hardscape, and helps reduce the green waste I "throw away."

    Bagged stuff really bums me out, and ditto the same products delivered in bulk. From an entirely selfish standpoint, I'll take a touch of plastic or two because I tend to sieve as I go and cart around portions, as you seem to, in pails and buckets handy enough that I can fish things out. (But then back in those bits of plastic go to their appropriate bin before being re-introduced to the world with no viable end in sight.) Functionally, for me, sand is the worst, the absolute worst, intentionally introduced as a filler. It's so infuriating when I start handwatering only to discover I've created an impermeable mulch because of all the sandbox sand. It's inefficient, makes me waste water, and is impossible to work around without removing it and a lot of decent soil beneath it because otherwise any new holes I dig are going to create weird layering issues that'll either dehydrate young root balls or leave them soppy and rotten.

    I know a gardener who collects the detritus she finds in commercial products and piles large amounts of it wherever she wants to smother or solarize a patch of green or an annual bed. It's incredibly unattractive -- rivaling in looks cardboard and poly sheeting -- but it's a renewable resource she can use again and again. I expect when she's found she's got too much to be of any use to her she'll start giving bags of it away, but that's only a temporary solution to the problem you describe above, and hardly makes a noticeable dent in our increasingly hoard-ridden planet.

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    1. Trees ground and composted--it keeps them out of a landfill. Gravel/crushed stone has its own environmental footprint, no? Compared to a lot of other things, I cannot believe gardening has much of an impact as many other activities, if one pays any sort of attention to the needs of native species.

      Detritus piles to solarize--I'm all for recycling, but would not want to be her neighbor!

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    2. I suppose it depends on how one defines and distinguishes gardening from public landscapes and sports and recreation parks. There are a few low-impact golf courses inland that incorporate native and warm season, low-fertility turfgrasses and recycle their own non-potable water; so, design and maintenance are certainly factors.

      Quite true re the downsides to "fresh" crushed gravel. I'm not too keen on local quarriers, so I pay to transport free half scoops of reclaimed aggregate from construction sites -- in the boonies these are ubiquitous and speculative, of course --and then just screen it myself, and donate whatever organic material's left over to an allotment. I don't know if all the (admittedly local, <5-10 miles) transportation negates that, petrol-wise, but I suppose it might.

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  2. Good morning Hoover Boo.
    I agree with you to be carefull with plastic. Overhere we have a separate container for green and one for plastic. I did see a documentary about the plastic in the ocean's. It made me very sad.
    Have a wonderful day.

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    1. We have a bin for recycles--we can put in any paper that tears, and anything else with the recycle triangle on it.

      We pick up all the plastic we see on the street or at the park, because we are so close to the ocean.

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  3. Glass bits? That sounds dangerous. I too find plastic, it's a sad state of affairs.

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    1. Heavy gloves--hands are safe. Have a great weekend!

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  4. Kudos to you for offering a gentle reminder. I've noticed minor issues with my mulch deliveries too, although I was pleased to see the last one was more debris-free than the one prior. We need to be careful about what goes into our green recycle bins too. Congrats upon completing your mulch exercise!

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    1. The stuff I get is really quite clean--what you see in that photo was what I could find in 6 yards of stuff. We pick up plastic trash every morning on our dog walks. Every morning. I like to think it helps...

      Thanks. I love the result, if not the process.

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  5. Last year, my mulch was filled with unbelievable amounts of plastic crap, from shreds of plastic film to little shards of hard plastic in every color of the rainbow. There were also lots of fruit and vegetable labels, though I can forgive those as they attest to the mulch's organic origins. Not much glass, thank goodness. I think it was an anomaly as I've had wonderful mulch from this source in past years. But I never want to repeat that misery so I went with another local favorite for my mulch this year. I'm still distributing it, but so far it's pristine.

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    1. It's not fair to have to pay for a bunch of trash, leaving aside the soil contamination issue. I'm glad you got a better batch this year. It's hard enough lugging mulch around and spreading it out without having to clean it, too.

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  6. Years ago we bought municipal compost (and previous gardeners here obviously did too) I will be picking up splinters of glass and shreds of plastic forever. That and random bits of concrete from the builders. It is like the tide, especially after rain, a fresh gift of tiny junk washes up.

    Walking on the beach we retrieve glass and plastic.

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    1. I now understand why homeowner greenwaste is not composted--it's full of garbage. Here they only compost tree-trimmer waste and it has to be pretty "clean". Sadly junk finds its way in--too much junk.

      I know what you mean--on our walks we pick up. Today it was a dozen water bottles, beer bottles, and soda cans...

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