Gardening

The Dirt on Quitting

If you've decided to kick the pesticide habit, Katrina Simmons has some tips on how to clean house.

By Katrina Simmons
Published April 09, 2006

Start off green this season, and put a whole new twist on spring cleaning.

If those lawn and garden chemicals that you've stopped using (good for you!) are still hanging around in your basement or shed, get rid of them. But whatever you do, don't throw them in the household trash! Look carefully at the labels on those pesticides (including weed killers, bug killers, fungicides, and products that treat for weeds as you fertilize), and you'll see warnings about their hazards.

They can leach into ground water and end up in our streams and lakes if they are not disposed of properly. Accidentally mixed together in the bin, the garbage truck, or the landfill site, they can be highly toxic, flammable or explosive as well.

Hamilton has two permanent Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) disposal sites for these materials. One is at the Mountain Community Recycling Centre on Upper Ottawa Street at Kilbride Road. The second is at Hotz Environmental Services at 239 Lottridge Street, a private company contracted by the City of Hamilton to handle its hazardous waste.

You can also drop off at these temporary locations in 2006:

"People bring products in because they're too old, and don't know if they're still effective," says Pamela McAuley, Vice-President of Business Development at Hotz. But that only accounts for about twelve percent of Hamilton's population. Most residents, she speculates, don't recognize the danger of improper disposal, or know that they can drop off household lawn and garden chemicals free of charge (maximum 40 litres/visit).

Is it a lack of publicity that keeps people in the dark? Not if Halton Region's efforts are any indication. For the past three years, they have run a Pesticide Exchange Event: a week long affair, where they offer garden give-aways, and grand prizes. Anyone turning in their yard products is eligible.

But according to Beckie Jas, Environment Health Specialist with Halton's Public Health Department, their biggest barrier to keeping hazardous materials out of landfill is the same: Residents just don't know they can drop them off at their HHW Depot in Milton. Maybe it will take a friendly competition across regional boundaries to get people on board: Can Hamilton turn in more pesticides this year than Halton residents?

If you want your yard to be environmentally friendly, but hire someone else to maintain it, ask if they offer a chemical-free service. Some lawn and garden companies are exclusively organic. Since there is no trademark or monopoly on the terms 'natural', 'organic', or 'green', do your homework, before you hire.

Ask lots of questions about the products they're using, and how they replenish the soil. Do they aerate, top dress and overseed the lawn every year? Do they test the soil before applying any kind of treatment? Will they advise on good turf care so you can maintain a healthy lawn between their visits? For a full list of questions to ask lawn care companies, or tips on caring for your own yard, check out Naturally Hamilton's website at http://www.naturallyhamilton.ca.

Maybe you have stopped using pesticides, but are holding on to those old bottles, not sure if you'll know how to tackle an invasion of weeds, slugs or black spot. For eco-friendly alternatives, think green. Call Green Venture's Yard Improvement Helpline (tel: 905-540-8787 x 18), then clean out your garden shed, and head for the nearest HHW Depot.

Katrina Simmons is a freelance journalist in Dundas, with a background in horticulture. She grows flowers and vegetables organically, has taught other gardeners to do the same, and is an active member of Canadian Organic Growers. Visit her website: http://www.2020studios.com/.

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