Insect species are in trouble. Many of our 4,000 North American bee species are threatened, or even endangered. Monarch butterflies have also seen a drastic decline. Researchers have found a dramatic decline in insects worldwide. Scientists attribute this to a variety of factors – climate change, modern agricultural practices, habitat loss and pesticide use. Some of these factors are not easily addressed, while others are very much within our control. There are many things that we as individuals can do to help. What we do in our own back yards (and front yards!) can make a difference. Here are some suggestions we can all implement ourselves to assist our valuable insect populations.
✅DITCH THE PESTICIDES Pesticides are toxic to our insect friends and totally unnecessary for cosmetic purposes. If you find yourself faced with a pest problem that must be managed it is important to avoid use of products that can harm beneficial organisms in our landscapes. The vast majority of insects in your yard are helpful. They provide valuable ecosystem services that benefit us like pollination, pest control, soil aeration, nutrient recycling and more. Organic IPM is a least toxic way of managing pests. There are five main steps. First, identify the pest. Second, learn about the pest’s biology. Third, determine the level you are able to tolerate. Fourth, modify your habitat to deter the pest. Fifth, monitor pest abundance and damage, if any. Often times after following these steps, control measures are not needed. Some least toxic controls include exclusion, traps, handpicking, vacuuming, water sprays, and judicious pruning. If a pest still remains above tolerance levels after implementing these options, then an organic compatible product may be considered. This would include OMRI certified and minimum risk (FIFRA 25(b) exempt) products. Follow all label directions exactly to avoid harming beneficial and non-target organisms. See Help for Homeowners for more information.
✅ PLANT NATIVE When planning your garden, choose varieties of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses that are native to your region. These will help support adult pollinators with nectar and habitat, and provide food for their larval stages. Insects need these host plants to be able to breed and increase their numbers. They will require less water and be more resistant to pests and disease than exotic imported ornamental plants. The caterpillars the plants host are food for baby birds. Be sure to provide a variety of flowers and bloom times. The greater the diversity of native plants, the more native pollinators they can support. Avoid cultivars of natives and opt for the straight or wild species. For example, you want to purchase Asclepias tuberosa, not Asclepias tuberosa 'Ice Ballet.' Your state's native plant society can help you find plants. Be sure plants you purchase have not been treated with any systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids or fungicides.
✅ LEAVE THE LEAVES Insects need leaf litter for egg laying and hibernating. A leaf free yard is not going to provide habitat to beneficial insects. Rake leaves into the “wild” areas of your yard and leave them over the winter or permanently when possible. Leave stems standing in your gardens over the winter. Birds eat the seed heads and insects nest in stems to hibernate. Fireflies nest in the ground and lay eggs in rotting logs. Leave a few to decompose in your garden. If you must clean up some areas in spring, wait until temperatures are reliably in the 50’s during the day, this is usually around mid to late April. Simplify your fall leaf cleanup routine, and you can enjoy a more diverse beneficial insect population visiting your garden. Allowing dead trees (even just portions of them if they pose a danger of falling) or limbs to stay where they are can also provide year round habitat for certain bee species.
✅ USE POLLINATOR FRIENDLY LANDSCAPING PRACTICES In addition to being highly polluting and disturbing neighbors and wildlife with excessive decibel levels, leaf blowers high winds damage topsoil and disturb insect habitat. Pollinators are just one of many good reasons to just say no when it comes to these machines. A pollinator friendly yard and leaf blowers don’t mix. Choose hand powered or electric equipment whenever possible. Never use lawn chemicals - organic lawns look good and are cheaper and less work to maintain. Dandelions, violets and clover are good grass companions, and they provide benefit to pollinators as well. Violets are the host plant for fritillary butterflies, and clover attracts tiny stingless beneficial wasps that prey on garden pests. Learn more about organic land care on the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) website.
✅ TURN OUT THE LIGHTS Pollinators are negatively affected by artificial outdoor lighting. Helping is a simple as flipping a switch. Set lights on a timer if needed, or install motion activated lights to reduce the impact on beneficial insects.
✅ PROVIDE A WATER SOURCE Kind of a no-brainer, yet frequently overlooked is providing a water source for insects. It’s as simple as putting out a shallow dish with some glass gems, large gravel, or rocks inside. Some people have even used sea glass. This will keep bees and other insects from drowning while they hydrate and it looks great too. Just remember to clean and fill on a regular basis.
We hope these tips will get you started in helping out our important insect friends!
On July 29, Bayer announced to shareholders their intent to withdraw glyphosate from the residential use market. But what does this mean? What do we need to know?
This change is about liability, not safety
Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer AG says, "“Let me be very clear that (this decision) is exclusively geared at managing litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns."
Roundup will still continue to be sold to consumers
Liam Condon, president of the Bayer Crop Science Division and a member of the Bayer AG board of management says that, “What is new will be the formulation or formulations and will include multiple active ingredients." The new formulation will still be sold under the Roundup brand.
The new formulations will likely be a "regrettable substitution"
We see this happening in municipalities often. Staff or contractors will stop using glyphosate based herbicides, and replace them with glufosinate or diquat dibromide. Products containing these active ingredients are sometimes paired with other herbicides that inhibit seed germination called preemergents, like ones with indaziflam or flumioxizan.
Other glyphosate containing herbicides will still be available for sale
This decision comes from the manufacturer of one glyphosate containing product, but there are many more formulations sold by other companies in the lawn and garden market.
Roundup and glyphosate will still be sold
This decision does not affect sales to, or use by lawn companies, municipal staff, schools, homeowners associations or other similar entities.
The other thousands of toxic pesticides on the market will also continue to be used and sold
The EPA has registered over 1,200 active ingredients and over 16,800 pesticide products. Glyphosate is just one of those active ingredients.
While this move by Bayer to avoid liability can be seen as a win, it is not a victory. Our work is far from over. We need to continue to advocate for health protective organic practices in our communities, not banning single chemicals.
Visit our Tools for Change to get started.
By Youth Advocate Khadija Hassan
We hear the word but do we truly know what it is?
Agricultural organic matter can be known as food or soil which is produced without the interaction of chemically formulated fertilizers, antibiotics, or growth stimulants. In the process of cultivating the organic crops, the word organic can also refer to what inputs are allowed and that the land has to be managed without the treatment of synthetic materials. A lot of research has been done on what organic is but the real question should be - What are the real benefits of organic practices?
According to this website, organic matter also refers to any plant or animal that resides in the soil and provides it with the nutrients that are available. It also improves the water binding quality in the soil. Additionally, according to Cornell University, the benefits can range from reducing surface crusting to enhancing aggregate stability. Those were just some of the benefits to organic soil that would help with growing crops. Another side of organic could be organic food. Eating food that has been made through the organic process can mean living a healthier life because it is grown in a sustainable way.
Growing organic matter in a sustainable way means following certain regulations that ensure a green way to produce food. The link provided (https://nofa.organiclandcare.net/the-standards/) has ensured an informational way to help educate on what and what not to do regarding organic land care. It is highly recommended that you take a look at it.
At the same time, organic management is better for the environment because it reduces pollution as well as using less energy. Now, it is no shock to everyone that the world contains way too much pollution and not enough solutions, but switching to organic could lead to a reduction in pollution. This would ultimately help the Earth in the long run. Additionally, all around the world there are energy crisis issues that could be solved if the governments could switch to better ideas like ensuring the use of organic management.
All in all, organic management has proven to be better for the environment, better for healthier lifestyles, and healthier for the planet. I encourage farms, schools, hospitals, cities, HOAs, and homeowners to switch to organic to ensure environmental health benefits for the earth and yourselves.
The answer to that question depends on the situation.
This spring when we are out in the neighborhood or at the park we may encounter someone applying pesticides. There are some things we should and should not do. Here's a breakdown.
Should I take a video or picture?
If there is a pesticide notification sign, especially at a park or other public place, yes, you can and should document it.
If it is a worker spraying or applying a pesticide, you should proceed with caution, and think carefully before recording any video or taking photographs.
Make sure you know the law in your state with regard to recording and photographing people in public places. Avoid confronting workers and never harass them while they are doing their job. Feedback should be directed to decision makers like city council representatives, not contractors or individual staff.
If you feel you must take video or photographs and it is legal to do so, take them from a safe distance away from any potential pesticide drift.
Should I post it on social media or my website?
If you took a picture of a notification sign, definitely share it to alert others. Signs are up for a limited time, and many people may not be aware of applications happening. This may be the only way for them to find out, and it is more than reasonable for you to share this information. Always feel free to document and share pesticide application signs or notices wherever appropriate.
If you legally took videos of workers spraying, consider if their faces are showing and how you present the photos or video. Consider your tone. Obscure faces if possible. We do not want to single out workers or shame them. They are being exposed to pesticides more, and more often, than anyone in this scenario and they may have been convinced that what they are applying is perfectly safe.
We want groundskeepers and landscapers to adopt organic practices. This is not achieved by putting them up as a target for public outrage or ridicule on social media accounts or websites. Seriously consider this before choosing to post any pictures or videos, and always use good judgement.
Should I call someone?
If you suspect pesticides have been applied a manner that is illegal, you should immediately contact your state's department of agriculture. Find your state pesticide regulatory agency here.
DO NOT try to mitigate pesticide contamination by yourself. Depending on what chemicals or products were used, this may make the situation worse, and it may make it harder for investigators to collect evidence for your complaint.
Some states do not accept pictures or videos as part of their report, while others do. Check to see what the law is in your state.
You may wish to contact a private attorney for civil action if this is appropriate.
How should I protect myself and my family?
Beyond Pesticides has excellent resources here under What to Do in a Pesticide Emergency
What can I do to stop toxic pesticides from being used?
Visit our resources page to find tools to help you advocate for the adoption of organic landscaping practices in your city, town, school or HOA.
In a word, yes!
Though the word regenerative is becoming more well known and talked about, this is not a new concept. The focus of organic land care has always been to create healthy soil and ecosystems, and the standards for organic land care have always encompassed regenerative principles.
Definition of Organic Land Care:
"Organic Land Care is a sustainable ecological landscaping system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-site inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony and beauty in urban and suburban landscapes and gardens. “Organic” means landscaping with no synthetic pesticides of any kind (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc.) and with no synthetic fertilizers or soil amendments."
The idea that in land care a "regenerative" program is a step above an organic one or that these are two separate concepts is a misconception. When an organic landscaping program is implemented properly, it will regenerate degraded soil to a state of health.
If a program doesn't do this, then it is not organic!
As we discussed in our last blog, terms like regenerative can be used as greenwashing, or may be used to market a business or product. We must make sure that there is substance behind the terminology. If we know what organic land care is then we know that organic done right should always encompass regenerative and sustainable practices.
"A key goal is to design landscapes that are regenerative, encouraging Nature’s healing processes to restore ecological balance in disturbed landscapes."
NOFA Standards for Organic Land Care, 6th Edition
A product swap approach, defined as a swapping out of synthetic products for natural ones, isn't going to have the resulting soil improvements that a true organic program would. Much is the same for "organic-by-neglect" which is stopping all synthetic pesticides without transitioning to an organic plan. True organic land care has many benefits, not least of all that it helps regenerate soil heath.
For many modern urban landscapes, especially public lands that have seen heavy use or past applications of synthetics, organic management is needed to regenerate the soil to a state of health and to keep it that way.
In this era of dramatic climate change, organic land care plays an essential role in helping to drawdown excess carbon and stop the release of other greenhouse gasses.
We hope you will join the growing movement of communities working towards regenerating their landscapes with organic practices.
Visit our Resources page to get started.
Caveat emptor - let the buyer beware!
Chances are, if you are here it is because you would like to see your community switch to organic landscaping practices. You may be in need of help from contractors, consultants, nonprofits, volunteer organizations, or others to help you with technical assistance, training and implementing an organic pilot program in a park or athletic field.
When we are looking to change our communities conventional landscaping practices, there are a few pitfalls we will need to avoid. One of these is greenwashing, meaning that a person or company is making misleading claims about their products and/or services being organic when they are not so in reality. Sometimes it is our municipalities and staff that are being misled, but whatever the case, it's important to be on the lookout!
While it is true that it's necessary for manufacturers, contractors and consultants to advertise themselves and their products, we must be sure that there is truth and expertise behind marketing buzzwords like natural, regenerative, sustainable, eco-friendly and the like.
It's important to know that we do have national organic land care standards written by experts in the field, along with accreditations based on them. Even so, the word organic is sometimes being used by companies and consultants that do not follow these voluntary guidelines of preferred, allowed and prohibited practices.
Just because the word organic (or any other) is being used, does not automatically mean that these standards are being met.
So, how can we as consumers and advocates avoid greenwashing and undesirable outcomes for our community project?
The following are a few practical tips on what to do when looking at our options.
Questions Should Always Be Welcomed.
Trust But Verify.
Ask The Right Questions.
Methods and Products.
We hope that by using these tips you will be able to navigate the world of organic landscaping a bit better and make sure that your community is getting a truly organic program, products, and services.
Now, more than ever, the importance of planetary health is made apparent as a viral pandemic sweeps over the earth. Due to events in one area, our whole planet has been affected. It is critical for us to understand that all life on earth is connected, and the activities of humans can have far-reaching repercussions.
Planetary health has been defined simply as “…the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends.” Harvard University defines it as "...a field focused on characterizing the human health impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth's natural systems."
This means that we humans are dependent on the health of our planet and all of the natural systems in it. If the planet is sick, then we too, become sick.
How does this apply to us as individuals? Well, by recognizing that we exist in a complex living system, full of unique smaller systems that act in concert, rather than in isolation, we can take responsibility for the health of our home and our species.
Things like climate change, spread of disease, and species extinctions are symptoms of how we interact with our home.
We focus on local change here at Non Toxic Communities - particularly in regard to landscaping practices at the neighborhood level. This is more manageable than trying to tackle an issue from the top down. When implementing a municipal policy, the effects are immediate in that an ongoing source of toxic exposures and pollution have ceased.
That's the thing about human-caused disruptions - they are within our control. During this pandemic, there are things we do have control over like staying home, washing hands, and wearing masks. These help slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus which emerged due to human interactions with wildlife and our natural world.
While this is an urgent issue that needs our attention, let us not lose sight of the big picture with regard to other urgent issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution that create problems like COVID-19 and can actually make it worse. The stressors on our species and natural systems add up, so the more we can do to address the straightforward issues that degrade our environment and harm our health like synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, gas engine pollution, synthetic turf, and habitat loss, the healthier and more resilient our communities will be.
Check out our Tools for Change for free resources to get started to protect your community's health.
And, of course, stay safe and be well!
We tend to think of pollution as an industrial problem, visualizing images we see in the press of smokestacks billowing into the sky, buried metal drums with hazard symbols, or pipes discharging toxic chemicals into a river. But there are sources of pollution much closer to home.
Luckily, these sources are relatively easy for us to address. There are several areas we can target inside our houses and our own communities that can make a meaningful reduction in air, soil and water pollution, and improve quality of living.
Starting with our own property, we can focus on these four key areas.
✅ The Lawn
The typical American lawn can be an astounding source of pollution - but it doesn't have to be this way. While an excessively large, conventionally maintained lawn can be toxic and a major drain on resources, by changing the way we care for it, it can become a beneficial part of the landscape.
1. Shrink the lawn. How much lawn do you really need? How much lawn do you really use? By making sure that our grass areas are an appropriate size, we reduce the environmental impact of our landscape and save time and labor.
2. Go organic. Hire an accredited lawn care company, or do it yourself, but make sure to eliminate the use of pesticides on your lawn. You can also allow your lawn to go au natural, only applying compost for fertility and over seeding in fall while implementing good cultural practices like mowing high, leaving clippings, etc.
✅ Landscape & Garden Equipment
According to the California Air Resources Board, "the small gasoline engines found in lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other power equipment pollute at a higher rate than other equipment and vehicles." They recommend a major shift to zero-emission equipment.
A simple way to cut down on this significant source of pollution is to swap out gas equipment for electric or hand powered equivalents.
1. Use rakes & brooms. These tried and true low-tech options are efficient, affordable and help us get exercise. For small lawns, a reel mower is a quiet, zero-emissions way to manage your lawn.
2. Go electric. For big jobs, the new generation of electric equipment has you covered. Not only do they not create emissions like gas engines, but they are quiet too, contributing to both better air quality and peace and quiet. Lawnmowers, string trimmers, hedge trimmers and even chainsaws are available in electric. They offer the power you need to get the job done, without the noise and fumes.
✅ Trees, Shrubs & Flower Beds
What we plant in our landscapes matters just as much how we care for them. Exotic plants popularized by the horticultural industry may look pretty but they require extra water and fertilizer, encourage pests, and don't support birds or pollinators.
By using organic practices and native plants in our landscapes we can contribute to healthier soil, cleaner water and air as well as support biodiversity.
1. Plant native. While just as aesthetically pleasing as any exotic, native plants provide vital food and habitat for insects, birds and other wildlife. Native plantings have distinct advantages when it comes to water conservation, carbon sequestration, pest resistance and ecological value for declining wildlife.
2. Work with nature. By mimicking natural ecosystems in our gardens, we increase the level of beneficial insects creating a balance - thereby reducing pest pressure overall. Using organic practices improves the health of the soil creating healthier plants that resist disease and pests.
✅ Household Emissions
What we use in our homes can affect both indoor and outdoor air quality in a big way. Many people are sensitive to synthetic and even natural fragrances. Triggers include perfume, cleaning chemicals and scented laundry products. Laundry exhaust ports on our homes can blast fragrance from detergents, fabric softeners and dryer sheets into the neighborhood air.
1. Use fragrance free laundry products. It's simple to switch to unscented laundry detergent and alternatives to dryer sheets like wool balls. And nothing smells better than laundry hung outside to dry in sunshine and fresh air.
2. Get a green cleaning product makeover. Unscented, eco friendly cleaning products are becoming more popular and easy to purchase. Some guides exist to help you choose safe products from EWG and Made Safe.
3. Skip the fragrance dispenser. Synthetic fragrances can trigger headaches, asthma and other health problems even in people who are not sensitive. These commercially available "air fresheners" contain untested proprietary ingredients that can harm our health. These fragrances even migrate outside the home into outdoor air, affecting our neighbors.
How many of these things are you already doing? Share with others so they can begin taking simple actions to make their community healthier today!
When campaigning for safe city parks, playgrounds and athletic fields, we want to make sure our efforts are being directed toward achieving a long-term comprehensive solution. There are several reasons why focusing on one chemical, like glyphosate, isn't the best way forward.
Toxic chemical whack-a-mole
There are many real life examples of regrettable substitution when it comes to toxic chemicals. This is when one chemical is replaced by an equally problematic or even worse substitute. It is no different with pesticides like glyphosate. Some cities and HOAs have banned the herbicide, only to replace it with another synthetic herbicide like glufosinate, or diquat dibromide. This strategy fails to protect both public health and the environment.
Other hazardous chemicals can be overlooked
Glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the world first sold under the brand name Roundup, has received a lot of attention for several reasons. Most recently its classification as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) followed by tens of thousands of lawsuits against the manufacturer Monsanto, alleging that exposure to their product caused plaintiffs to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company knew about the cancer risks and intentionally failed to warn consumers. Despite three juries finding on behalf of the plaintiffs, the link to cancer remains hotly contested and controversial. Sometime this debate overshadows the concerns of scientists over the effects of the chemical beyond just cancer.
While the news about glyphosate has been most welcome in the sense that it has created a lot of public awareness, it is also something of a double edged sword. Ideally glyphosate should be held up as a case study of how the federal regulatory system is failing to ensure that public health and the environment are protected. Unfortunately, the reality is that the proportion of media reports, and even some less than robust scientific papers, have led to a disproportionate amount of attention on Roundup, while equally or more toxic chemicals continue to be used in large amounts in our landscapes with little scrutiny.
Civil Eats reported that the organic yogurt company "Stonyfield commissioned a survey last year which showed that while 69 percent of American parents are looking to lessen exposure to pesticides in food, nearly the same number of parents (67 percent) do not consider sports fields, playgrounds, or parks to be of concern."
So even with all of the news reports about glyphosate based herbicides, a significant number of people are still not really aware of what's being used in our landscapes. When it comes to turf grass areas like athletic fields, it's not Roundup being sprayed (because that would kill the grass) but "selective" herbicides like 2,4-D which is usually found in combination products like SpeedZone for instance, are typically used. Insecticides like imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid, and fungicides are also used. The use of these synthetic pesticides are at least as worrisome as the glyphosate being sprayed along fence lines, flowerbeds, and on hardscapes.
Advocates can end up having to do the work all over again
If we were only to ban one type of pesticide product at a time, we would not achieve what we are really looking for - landscaping practices that do not rely on any toxic pesticides.
Organic landscaping helps protect the environment and public health because it is a comprehensive approach to landscape management, not simply a product for product swap. The focus shifts to organic inputs that improve soil health, and good cultural practices to manage weed and pest pressure.
As advocates your time is valuable, and your hard work is best spent on a strategy that eliminates the use of all toxic pesticides, rather than just one. This is why we don't want you to ban glyphosate, but rather use your time and energy to run a campaign that brings in safe, reliable, organic solutions.
To learn more about organic landscaping, visit the Organic Land Care Project.
Check out our Tools for Change to get started with a pesticide reform campaign in your community.