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Can you (or should you) compost packaging? Avoid chemicals or save the world?

July 22, 2022

You may or may not know that nearly all of the stuff we use to pack your order is compostable. The only exception is the ice packs.

But, just because the packing materials are compostable and environmentally friendly doesn’t mean that they don’t contain synthetic chemicals.

For example, the compostable plastic bags are indeed compostable. However, they are definitely a highly processed product derived from corn and soy. The corn and soy are probably grown with chemicals like glyphosate. And who knows what chemicals are used to manufacture the bags.

Another example is the denim liners used for mail shipping. They are made from recycled cotton, likely from clothes. The cotton might have been bleached, sprayed with fire retardant, or who knows what else!

When you get these products at home, you have 3 options:

1- Throw them in the garbage. 

You know that these products will break down (or compost) in a landfill, which is certainly not true for styrofoam or petroleum-based plastics. It’s a step in the right direction. If your trash is burned/incinerated, well, that’s simply never good for the planet. 

2- Repurpose them. 

I know at least one customer who uses the cotton liners as insulation in their attic. And, I know many customers who donate them to soup kitchens and food pantries, which often need to deliver meals to people in need. 

I personally reuse the ice packs and keep the boxes for my kids to create and imagine with. And, since I’m in the Farm Driver Delivery zone, I return as much packaging as I can to the farm for reuse.

3- Compost them. 

If you’re lucky enough to have municipal composting or subscribe to a composting service, that’s awesome and amazing!

You can also compost them at home, despite the warning that the bags should only be composted in an “industrial composting facility”. I’ve done it! For best results, the bags and liners should be chopped into small pieces, and you should maintain a healthy compost pile. 

If you choose to compost the packaging, what about the chemicals? Is this safe to use the compost?

This is a complicated question. I mean, no matter what happens to the packaging, the chemicals still exist. It’s really a question of who is exposed to them and when.

If the products are incinerated, those chemicals go into the air. Kind of off topic, but I was horrified when I realized that, since all gasoline now contains ethanol, which is made from corn most likely grown with glyphosate, all that glyphosate goes into the air! 

When these products compost in a landfill, they become part of a giant pile of junk and chemicals. Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Over time, nature will inevitably spread it out. Rain comes down, and the chemicals will eventually make their way into the water supply and reach those who live closest first. 

And who typically lives close to highways, waste incinerators, and landfills? Well, it’s sadly lower income people and people of color.

Municipal compost is typically used in municipal parks and gardens. So, any chemicals would get spread throughout your community. All of your neighbors get exposed. 

Composting services either deliver the compost back to you, donate it to a local charity, and some even sell it! So, those chemicals would stay pretty local, near your community.

If you end up with the compost, either from a service or DIY at home, you have a choice to make – where do I use the compost? You could use it on vegetable gardens, but then the chemicals may contaminate your food. Or, you can use it on decorative gardens or to regenerate your lawn. No matter what, those chemicals are staying close to you.

We live in a grossly imperfect world. Chemical exposure is not an “if”. It’s a “when” and “how much” situation. 

If you’re reading this, especially this far down, then I’m pretty sure you’re passionate about natural health and avoiding synthetic chemicals, too. You understand the damage it can do not only within your body but to the environment as well. 

So really the question is, how do you handle your chemical burden? Do you send it far away from you to disproportionately affect lower income families and people of color? Or, do you own your chemical intake and keep it close to home?

My personal choice is to take the burden onto myself as much as I can. If I’m using products with chemicals, then I should deal with it and not push it off somewhere I can’t see it. 

My husband loves compost, and we have some very healthy piles cooking in the backyard. We use it all over our teeny tiny property (along with cover crops and some chicken manure), and the results have been amazing. 

When we first moved in 5 years ago, our land was about 50% dirt… hard, lifeless dirt. Now, we’re almost 95% plant covered with soil filled with worms and beetles and living microbiology! 

My husband and I dream of growing mushrooms, which are supposedly amazing at breaking down chemicals quickly. So far, no success, but there’s still hope!

What do you think? What are your views on chemicals? How do you manage your exposure? Do you make or use compost?

I’d love to hear from you. Comment below (no account required, start typing to post as a guest) or contact us.

PS: I know that recyclable packaging is also an option. However, I don’t think the outcome is any brighter when compared to composting. I’ve read that a small percentage of recyclable material is actually recycled. Plus, it can only be recycled so many times. Plus, it takes a bunch of energy to recycle.

Marie Reedell

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