April 2021

"What's wrong with using Weedkiller?"

This question was asked on a social media post about the project being undertaken by Johnstown Tidy Towns group who are attempting to end the use of weedkiller in Johnstown. It is a fair question given that there is a wide array of weedkiller products available in the garden centres. Here we provide reasons to persuade you not to buy these items.

Why Does The Product Exist?

The history of weed killer stems from farming and mass food production. The efficient farming practice of sowing and growing food crops in rows meant that everything growing in between them are weeds.

Women and children were.......

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Women and children were once employed to remove these weeds by hand which was highly labour intensive and not always well paid. The Industrial Revolution caused a huge change where the workforce moved from working in the fields to working in factories. Weed control on the farms required a solution that was not dependant on having a large labour force.

By the mid-nineteenth century herbicide and weed control research essentially combined. The first chemicals used were pretty horrific by today's standards. Used in large quantities they often included arsenic and table salts, fumigants, solvents, oils, and even sulphuric acid to produce highly toxic and sometimes highly explosive weed and pest controllers. By 1969 studies into plant biology had produced 75 organic molecule herbicides in the USA.

Source: ucanr.edu

Our residential gardens however are not farms and we don't have the same excuse, or scale, to continue using weed killer.

Business Opportunity

By extending the definition of unwanted plants as weeds in farming and applying their focus on residential gardens opened up a new market. This was the perfect opportunity to persuade society that these plants needed to be rapidly removed with lethal force and with minimal effort. The idea of just digging out weeds by hand was being portrayed as being too difficult and time-consuming. By only temporarily resolving the problem with killer spray the customer entered a cycle of needing to return and purchase more producing a profitable long-term business plan.

Are All Weedkillers Bad?

Look at it from a different angle and ask yourself would you pour it over yourself? In 99.9999% of cases it is most definitely poisonous to consume, so keep it well away from children and pets.

The bigger question is what happens to the environment after it's used?

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When poison is intentionally poured onto the ground it seeps through the soil and rock into our rivers, flows into the sea, enters the water cycle, and eventually falls back onto our own heads as rain? It is poisonous at all stages along its route and, even with dilution, all life connected with it is being poisoned. Our actions are being replicated by millions of others.

The use of many well-known products containing Glyphosate, such as 'Roundup' or any one of 750 products, is being banned, restricted, or phased out across the globe where the connection with health risks to humans is being contested. However, being a billionaire business with far-reaching commercial consequences, there is a scientific study to backup both arguments 'For' and 'Against' any commercial ban. Multibillion-dollar payouts from lawsuits signal that we are slowly but surely waking up to the dangers to humans, plants, soil, and aquatic life.

Ironically when you review the list of countries banning, phasing out, or restricting its use you'll see that Ireland isn't on it!

What Is The Alternative?

For large scale crop production on farms they certainly have a difficult challenge to minimise the harm to the environment whilst producing the food that we need. We acknowledge that there simply isn't a quick solution to implement. Without chemical herbicides (and pesticides) farms would need to devise mechanical devices. Environmentalist groups continue to lobby governments to ensure that progress is being made and that the cost to the environment and our health is reduced.

Organic farms tend to be much smaller and therefore more able to implement farming as it was practiced pre Industrial Revolution.

Solutions For Your Garden.

Compared to farms we don't have the same scale weed problem within our gardens to be using commercial herbicides. Many households might be tempted to use chemicals readily available within our kitchens but they are still often highly poisonous to the environment. You wouldn't consider pouring bleach, or a concentrated mixture of vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, washing up liquid, and table salt over yourself so why consider it to be a safer alternative to any of the chemicals that you can buy?

You can drink tap water but pouring boiling hot water will kill any plant including the ones you want to keep alive! It's not a great idea since it also scalds and sterilises the soil and all the life forms that provide a benefit to your plants are killed or damaged.

The only instant solution involves using your hands and spending a bit more time in the garden. Invented for weed control the simple garden hoe is a fantastic device that is very quick to use and extremely effective. There are other plunger-type devices that twist and pull out the weeds which do reduce the environmental cost in exchange for having yet another gadget.

Change The Environment & Not The Plant.

Relying on chemical warfare means we will win the brief battles but ultimately lose the war. It's far easier and more beneficial to the environment if we simply accept weeds as being plants that need managing properly.

In Japan and India they discovered that by introducing fish into their rice fields the weeds and some insect pests were being eaten to produce a balanced ecosystem. Other countries that didn't have access to animals and ploughs planted by hand using either slash and burn, transplanting seedlings instead of sowing seeds, or introduced companion planting to control unwanted weeds and pests.

Limit the Opportunities for Weeds:

  • Digging over your soil encourages weed seed germination.

  • Use smaller plants as ground cover to avoid having bare patches of soil exposed for airborne weed seeds.

  • Add a thick layer of mulch or lay a weed sheet to suppress weed growth.

  • Use crack fillers to seal joints in paths and patio tiles.

  • Sweep and clear the material which gathers along the edges of roadside kerbs.

You might be thinking that this is all easier said than done but if the environment you have created suits weeds then they'll happily grow again and again.

Either change the garden environment or use your hands to create the desired effect but to use chemical warfare simply isn't right.

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