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What’s In Commercial Compost

What’s In Commercial Compost

... and why you should make your own.

Commercial CompostWhen the State of California required Los Angeles to reduce its landfill waste, the city had the perfect solution. Compost! A large percentage of what went into the dumps came from lawns, gardens and parks. By collecting green waste, composting it and marketing it back to the public, the City not only reduced its waste by half, it made money to boot. The commercial compost was sold by the yard to large growers and landscape services as well as in attractive bags at select home, garden and grocery stores. The program more than paid for itself. Win-win!

Then the reports started coming in. Growers of tomatoes, peas and other vegetables noticed they were losing crops. Sunflowers and daisies died. The culprit was found to be Clopyralid (PDF), a widely-used dandelion herbicide, found to be present in the City-manufactured compost. Suddenly compost programs in Los Angeles, Spokane and other parts of the country came to a halt as the “contaminated compost” scandal spread.

Clopyralid isn’t the only contaminant that buyers of commercial compost have had to worry about. There’s a wide array of herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals and other chemicals as well as bacterial pathogens that can make their way into commercial compost. Compounding the problem are persistent toxins from sprays used on forests (forest products make up a large share of commercial compost). The addition of sewage sediments and sludge — once freely labeled as such, now more stealthily named — as well as other waste water by-products harboring everything from heavy metals to prescription drugs show up in compost. As the often-heard saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.