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Safety of cardboard in compost

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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  dalepres on Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:07 am

I see a lot of SFG gardeners use cardboard as do no-till gardeners.  I've read concerns about the glues in the cardboard, tapes, stickers, etc., and the plastics in tape as a big safety concern with a lesser concern about inks.  

I get a LOT of boxes because we get a lot of medical and other needs online.  I'm just not comfortable using them in my compost or garden.  If you are using cardboard, do you know something I don't about the safety or the risks?
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  OhioGardener on Sun Jul 19, 2020 8:42 am

I use a lot of cardboard to kill grass/weeds before starting a new garden, and have no concerns about its safety. I remove all tape, staples, labels, etc., before using the cardboard. I do not use any cardboard which is coated with plastic, oil, etc.. The cardboard is well below the level of the vegetable plants, so that is not a concern to me. And, the earthworms and microbes love consuming the cardboard over time.

There is a good statement about using cardboard in the garden by the National Center for Appropriate Technology:


Gardeners have different opinions on using cardboard in the vegetable garden, but certified organic growers can use what I call ‘clean’ cardboard – plain, unwaxed boxes with all tape and sticky labels removed, with minimal printing on the outside. According to the National Center for Appropriate Technology, “the basic components of corrugated cardboard seem to be relatively benign. Brown corrugated cardboard appears to be the least processed paper product. It therefore would have the lowest number and smallest quantity of chemical substances, compared to white, glossy, highly printed, waxed or otherwise coated cardboard, paperboard, and papers.”


Full article here: https://www.growveg.com/guides/using-cardboard-in-the-vegetable-garden/

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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  dalepres on Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:12 pm

Thanks, OhioGardener.  That was an interesting article.  

I'm not trying to be challenging or negative; I just want to be safe in what I put in my food supply so I have done some more research stemming from your link.  

Just for the record, I'm not necessarily an organic gardener; I believe in living better through modern chemicals.  I just want to understand the chemicals I'm putting into my body.  When organic practices work, I will use them but I'm not completely against breaking those rules for my own consumption.

I found that Pratt Industries and International Paper are the primary box suppliers for Amazon and among the largest manufacturers in the US so I have emailed both to ask about the safety of their products.

From the  USDA regulations, CFR, Title 7 (Agriculture) Part 205, §205.601 Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic crop production.

In accordance with restrictions specified in this section, the following synthetic substances may be used in organic crop production: Provided, That, use of such substances do not contribute to contamination of crops, soil, or water.

(2) Mulches.

  (i) Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.
...
  (c) As compost feedstocks—Newspapers or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

It doesn't specifically call out cardboard and it's still not clear whether the glues contribute to the contamination of crops or soil.

From the ATTRA article linked in the growveg.com link (the link in growveg.com doesn't work; here's the updated link: Can I use cardboard and newspaper as mulch on my organic farm?:

ATTRA has not found any research studies to establish the impact of black ink used in the printing on newspaper, or whether the inks and glues used in cardboard are completely safe. However, there is abundant anecdotal and experiential evidence that suggests the use of brown cardboard as mulch is very effective as a weed barrier and that it biodegrades and does not appear to pose any substantial threat to the health of the soil and soil organisms. Many organic gardeners and farmers and ecological landscapers use cardboard often and say that it makes great sheet mulch. A few years ago, ATTRA did research on the different substances that go into making cardboard, as well as the glues, inks, and coatings that may be used. Based on the information available then, the basic components of corrugated cardboard seemed to be relatively benign.

In one sentence, they state that they have not found any research to establish that the glue or inks in cardboard is safe.  Lack of science is not science.  In another sentence, they state that they did research, without any link to that research or its methodologies, that says the glue and ink in corrugated cardboard seemed to be relatively benign.  Now there's a statement that builds confidence in feeding something to your children. I've emailed them, as well, asking for clarification and for any information on what they learned about the glues and inks in corrugated cardboard.

The regulations for certified organic require that a grower provide their certifier a list of all products used in production of their crops.  The only certifier in Oklahoma is the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.  I've emailed them to ask whether they would certify a grower who used corrugated boxes in their compost.  This is still not exactly scientific - doing the wrong thing over and over again, by a thousand certifiers over a  hundred years does not make it the right thing - but it establishes an opinion from those who have more training in the field than do I.

Even though I'm excited about the potential benefits of using it, I'm just still not getting warm fuzzies about the safety of cardboard in my compost.  I'm asking and researching because I want to use it; I just want to be sure it's truly safe.

I'll update the thread with any replies I get to my emails.


Last edited by dalepres on Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:14 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos)
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  dalepres on Sun Jul 19, 2020 12:25 pm

As I research whether to, and how to, use cardboard in my garden, another question comes  to mind.  Has anyone tried shredding boxes in their chipper/shredder or even a lighter-weight leaf shredder?

I've read  how much worms like cardboard in vermiculture but read that you should tear/cut/shred it up for better results.  That brought to mind the question of the chipper/shredder.
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  Dan in Ct on Mon Jul 20, 2020 2:51 pm

dalepres, I shred cardboard boxes and pre-moisten for when I start new vermicompost bins. I also use shredded newspaper as bedding and as a covering to keep the worms inside the plastic totes. I believe any heavy duty over 13 page paper shredder should work. You have to cut up the cardboard box with a utility knife but shredded cardboard accumulates rather quickly. This is for home use anything beyond that you would need an industrial cardboard shredded. I have a Fellowes Heavy Duty Paper Shredder and was around $200 new.

Here on a small scale composting site as long as the ingredients are onsite or under a certain tonnage for the year there are minimal regulations. It is when you get to medium size and above that oversight regulations kick in especially with imported components for the composting. Here is a link to The US Composting Council web page. 

https://www.compostingcouncil.org/page/STA-Feedstocks

Your initial post got me thinking and researching some things I was sure that I was sure of. First here is a good explanation in the difference between compostable and biodegradable, As we know they are not the same, from the biodegradable Products Institute.

https://bpiworld.org/Composting

The last link is to the EPA and composting at home and a list of what you can and what you can't compost. So as OhioGardener recommended strip off anything that isn't cardboard and your cardboard should be in the safe zone.

https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home

I know longer believe in Better Living Through Chemistry, we are as is most of the world Biological and we are just beginning to understand some of it. Chemistry is a tool, not a path as far as I am concerned, needed but not the perspective by which to view the world. Not when even aspirin comes with side effects.
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  dalepres on Wed Jul 22, 2020 7:14 pm

I really appreciate all the replies and helpful information.

I haven't yet heard back from the box makers but I did hear from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.  Their view is that corrugated cardboard without waxy or other coatings, with black ink only, fits the bill of allowable cardboard that does not contribute to contamination.

It's looking good for the boxes and the compost but I'm still hoping to hear from the box makers that the glues they use are safe.  I did read a random article online (maybe one linked in this thread or on this site but I don't remember) that said modern corrugated boxes use starch-based glues but the statement was not supported with any references or documentation to back it up.  I hope it's true but I'd like to verify it.  

It's also true, or at least we had all hoped that it was true, that baby formula doesn't have melamine in it but we know how that hope turned out.  I really want to use the boxes but, at least for me, the jury is still out on safety.
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  plantoid on Wed Jul 29, 2020 4:25 pm

I think ypu'll find that in the socalled civilized world  printing inks have movd on tremendously and aren't toxic like the old oil based inks .
 I wet all the carboard leave it a few hours out of th sun  so it becomes limp the tear,  it parts  like a soft sponge cake ....it gets that soft .  


 Then put it in the composting bins as a lasagne mix .....the worms love it . I soon disappears in the direction of the great compost god  .


Wink   There is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .   Laughing
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  OhioGardener on Wed Jul 29, 2020 5:38 pm

Wink   There is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .   Laughing

LOL

Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong....

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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  llama momma on Thu Jul 30, 2020 12:09 pm

I've used cardboard extensively between vermi composting and making regular compost and feel very good about using it especially after reading up on worms and bio remediation of heavy metals contained in soil.  Worms do the work for you by removing it then store it in their own tissues.  I would think they can handle whatever is in or on cardboard. I do remove tape and also just learned colored ink portions can be removed for safety. If you want you can search for any dead worms, dispose of them and all is good.  Personally, I feel fine concerning the use of cardboard. 

 Here is one article but there are many more if you want to look it up. [url=https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816133420.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,flower markets%2C according to researchers.]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120816133420.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,flower%20markets%2C%20according%20to%20researchers.[/url]
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  sanderson on Sat Aug 01, 2020 7:59 pm

@OhioGardener wrote:
Wink   There is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .& there is nothing wrong with me  or our family after 10 or more years doing it .   Laughing

LOL

Nothing can go wrong...go wrong...go wrong....
lol!

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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Sources of cardboard for gardens

Post  RainyG on Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:37 am

Nurseries that sell bare root stock are a potential source of cardboard for gardens. If they buy their stock from the producers, those plants had to get shipped to them.  Our township has an annual tree sale and we are involved with that, so usually wind up with some or all of the boxes the trees are shipped in.  I have seen boxes with no printing on them, just a shipping label which is easily removed. The variety & number are written on the box in indelible marker, again easily cut out. The boxes can be partially or completely lined with a very thin layer of plastic or waxy material, but dampen the boxes, wait a while, and that layer peels right off.
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Safety of cardboard in compost Empty Re: Safety of cardboard in compost

Post  Scorpio Rising on Wed Aug 05, 2020 8:42 pm

Interesting!  I have never put cardboard in my compost...I recycling.  But if you need browns, I would think that safe sources would be great
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