RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA--Organic gardeners tend to be in the upper echelon of eco-awareness. They put their hands in the soil, they eat what they grow, and they take extra precautions to keep harmful chemicals out of their homegrown food supply. But even organic gardeners sometimes rely on plastic. The problem is, relying heavily on plastic in the garden (or on the farm) might actually be bad for our health, among other things. "Plastics are complex mixes of many chemicals, some of which are soluble in water and can therefore leach out into a garden, thence to contaminate the vegetables grown there," says pediatrician and public health expert Philip Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of the department of Community and Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
Beyond that, making plastic is energy intensive. And our society's addiction to petrochemical-based plastic helps drive unconventional oil and natural gas exploration, wrecking human and environmental health in this country.
Here's how to find alternatives to plastic to use in your garden.
• Kick coated products to the curb. Rodale.com Nickel Pincher contributor Jean Nick suggests bypassing any plastic-coated wire garden equipment (like a plant cage, for example). This coating typically consists of vinyl, which some health and environmental groups have dubbed "the poison plastic" because of its harmful production and human health impacts. Plus, vinyl-coated products are often more expensive. And who needs that?
• Phase out plastic mulch. Some gardeners swear by black plastic mulch because it warms the soil and keeps weeds down. The problem is, it could also release chemicals into your soil as the sun beats down on it day in and day out. Beyond that, it's not helping to boost beneficial soil microorganism populations like other natural mulches would, and the impervious plastic surface could create runoff problems.
The bottom line? Rely on untreated grass clippings or organic straw as the best organic mulch options.