is a common resource used by small scale organic gardeners. It can provide
carbon for compost, matting for weed reduction and containers for seed raising,
but it carries great risks to the health of your food garden. There is no doubt
that recycling newspaper is environmentally responsible, but should it be
recycled into the dirt that produces your food? My blog this week takes an
objective look at using newspapers in your food garden.
How is it
the uses described below have the same assumption of safe biodegradability of the
newspaper, which is mostly carbon:
perhaps the most common medium for using newspaper in the organic garden. The
newspaper is often mashed up and put into the compost heap in clumps or layers.
The bulk of substance in good compost is a combination of dry matter (carbon),
green matter (plant material), manures and water. Newspaper is used as the dry
is often used on paths between garden beds to reduce weeds and some gardeners
will also place the newspaper over their garden beds and make holes in the
paper for plants, all with the aim of reducing weeds.
garden beds are formed and in particular raised garden beds it is very commonly
recommended that newspaper be used as the base of the raised bed to stop the
weeds becoming invasive in the garden bed. The newspaper is also layered
through the raised bed to add carbon.
is fashioned into small containers for growing seeds. When the seedlings have
come up, the containers and seedlings are planted, as it is understood that the
paper is biodegradable.
the newspaper process?
is made from paper which comes from wood. When the paper is created, chlorine
is used to prepare the pulped wood so it can be made into paper and then bleach
(made predominantly from chlorine) is used to dye the paper to a whiter level.
ink was initially all based on petro-chemical substances and over the last 30
years, printers have moved towards more vegetable based inks, with soy being
the most common ingredient. Soy based inks are predominantly derived from
genetically modified soy crops.
Petro-chemical inks are highly toxic to the environment, whilst vegetable based inks are not
so toxic and more biodegradable. Newspapers normally use a combination of
petro-chemical and vegetable inks. The proportion of use may depend on how
environmentally friendly the paper owner chooses to be as vegetable based inks
are more expensive than petro-chemical inks.
newspaper inks have pigments in them to create the print colour. The most
common pigments are based on petro-chemical substances. These pigments combine
with the ink to produce the black and colour print
the risks below impact the primary task of the successful organic gardener and
that is to promote and protect life in the soil. Such impacts will lead to
lower seed fertility, weaker plants, greater infestations of pests and diseases
and lower life force in the plants which results in lower nutritional value and
- Toxic breakdown When chlorine dissipates
after use, two of its by-products are dioxin and organo-chlorides and
these substances do not break down easily, they bio-accumulate, which
means that any chlorine left in the newspaper you use in your organic
garden will leave these two toxic substances in very small quantities in
the garden and the atmosphere around the garden. Dioxin is known as the
most toxic chemical on earth.
- Stops micro-organisms Chlorine and bleach are
incredibly effective at killing micro-organisms, just think how you may
use bleach at home. In a compost heap or in your garden beds, one of your
main tasks is to encourage the proliferation of life via micro-organisms,
so anything you put into the garden to slow this down makes it more
difficult to have healthy soil.
- Heavy metals from
petro-chemical ink Its quite likely that the newspapers you use for your garden
have a mixture of petro-chemical and soy based ink. When released into the atmosphere,
petro-chemicals can contaminate soil and groundwater.
- Support of GM products in soy
of GM products is very contentious with the proponents believing its the
saviour of our ailing food system and it has no adverse affects on the
environment. If you don't support GM products and prefer to be more
cautious with the avoiding the potential impacts of GM products residues
in your soil, then avoid newspaper produced with GM soy ink
- Heavy metals
in pigments Common inorganic harmful substances used are Cadmium
for yellow, Phthalocyanine
for blue and with black ink; the carbon used for such inks is often
produced with petro-chemical oils.
- Combination of ink and
indicated above, the potential for toxic substances in newspaper is
very high, given the process of production. These substances, when combined
together and whilst breaking down in your soil, may result in other harmful
newspapers in your recycling bin, not your food garden, so they are used to
make more newspapers.
won't need to buy newspapers. I haven't bought a newspaper for 10 years.
unprocessed organic substances
- Compost - Use dry grass, hay or dry
leaves (not eucalypts) for your dry matter
- For weed reduction Firstly realise that weeds
are a powerful natural fertiliser for your soil, so use them rather than
suffocating them. Make weed teas, use cover crops, reduce space between
plants and practice continuous soil improvement. This will all help to
- Garden beds Use hay, cane mulch or
grassy hay, not newspaper.
- Seed container Use proper seed raising
containers and take your seedlings out of the container when you plant
interesting how things in life become generally accepted as being OK, but when
they are looked at more deeply, there are often gremlins lurking. Successful
food gardening with organic methods is a blend of many factors, some out of
your control, but others totally in your control. Just as you have control over
what you put in your mouth, you have control over the substances you put in
your garden soil and its the soil which has a very big impact on the success
of your organic garden.
Peter Kearney www.cityfoodgrowers.com.au