BioCycle June 2011, Vol. 52, No. 6, p. 4
Dan Sullivan and Nora Goldstein
Something screwy is going on in the composting and organics recycling world. And fortunately, you don’t have to go any further than this June issue of BioCycle to learn about it. Beginning on page 20, you will read Ron Alexander’s article on labeling requirements and allowable claims for compost products. Then, starting on page 23, you will read Dan Sullivan’s special report, “Persistent Nightmare,” about the latest tenacious herbicide – marketed as Imprelis – being unleashed on compost and mulch producers.
What is screwy is that composters have to jump through all kinds of regulatory hoops to place truthful nutrient and soil-benefit claims on their product labels. Producers of these broadleaf herbicides, with active ingredients such as aminocyclopyrachlor and aminopyralid, however, are merely required to include warnings on their labels that vegetation treated with their products should be kept far away from compost and mulch production facilities. We didn’t intentionally schedule Ron’s and Dan’s articles for the same issue of BioCycle. But the contradiction this juxtaposition points out – holding composters to extremely strict standards so that their products don’t damage plants or water quality while allowing chemical companies to merely slap on a directive that organic materials treated with their products should not end up in compost piles because the resulting compost can damage plants (in some cases, as you will read, for a long, long time) – is quite dramatic.
When reporting for this story, the comments made by the DuPont and Dow representatives regarding stewardship – in reference to taking responsibility for the end life of their products – were stated sincerely. “We said, ‘Okay, we’ll draw you a picture,’” one rep told us in explaining how simple his company had made it for farmers to manage materials so that manure or hay tainted with a chemical that could stick around and do damage for years did not enter the compost stream. In this case, a picture (see inset) really is worth 1,000 words. But this one doesn’t tell a product stewardship story: 1) Spray herbicide on field. Check. 2) Cut and bale hay. Check. 3) Feed hay to cows and horses. Check. 4) Do Not Compost Manure Or Mulch, Sell Or Compost Hay … Huh?!
Agricultural chemical companies warning farmers that they can’t cut and sell hay off their farm or give away their nutrient-rich horse or cow manure to a local community garden flies in the face of economic and environmental sustainability. In DuPont’s case with Imprelis, measuring stewardship by using less of a chemical that remains toxic to plants even after composting does not equal stewardship. Releasing it as a consumer product (Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is incorporating Dupont’s aminocyclopyrachlor into a residential lawn care fertilizer) and saying you are following stewardship protocols is producer irresponsibility, no matter which way you spin it. Perhaps Scotts, and even DuPont, will begin to get the message when the light of truth continues to shine on their claims of producer responsibility and will start introducing products that work with natural systems instead of against them.