There is a good chance you grew up not giving a second thought to spraying your lawn for dandelions every year, for your county to frequently spray the ditches for weeds, or for your city workers to drive by periodically to spray the weeds that always manage to creep through the cracks in sidewalks.
How about sprinkling powder to kill ants throughout your yard? Or whipping out your bug killer at the first sign of a spider?
Let’s discuss why these are not wise actions.
There is one pro to using pesticides and herbicides: quickly and easily getting rid of a pest or weed problem.
However, the negative effects of using herbicides and pesticides can be immediate and far-reaching.
Contamination of land and water
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Persistent herbicides can remain active in the environment for long periods of time, potentially causing soil and water contamination and adverse effects to nontarget organisms. In some cases, compounds that result from herbicide degradation may continue to be significantly toxic in the environment.”
Ill effects on human health
In humans, herbicides and pesticides are known to cause extreme disruption in the microbiome, which can result in a wide variety of diseases and ailments.
They also cause fertility problems and cancers, among many other issues. See Chemical Pesticides and Human Health: The Urgent Need for a New Concept in Agriculture for a much more detailed look at the negative effects of these chemicals.
Since the vast majority of us buy at least some of our vegetables and proteins at grocery stores, we are all exposed at some level to these toxins in our environment.
Who knew this innocent-looking glass of water could be pretty toxic?! It may be surprising, but drinking water can be a significant source of these toxins. Plus the drinking water of our animals and the water we use on our gardens.
According to one study, “[p]esticide detection in Alberta surface waters are common and widespread.” For example, 2 4-D was detected in 53% of samples! In this specific study, 44 of the 63 pesticides that were measured were detected in the water samples.
Commonly, some herbicides and pesticides even remain in water that has undergone treatment for safe consumption. See this study for more evidence.
Destruction of our planet
We are killing invertebrates by the application of herbicides and pesticides! Or, “the little things that run the world”, as EO Wilson put it. We rely on these “little things” for our survival as a human race and therefore we should do everything in our power to stop their destruction.
That not only includes planting native gardens to support insects, but also to stop using chemicals on our yards.
What to do instead
Make the choice to ban the use of pesticides and herbicides in your yard. Use my gardening tips to reduce weeds in your vegetable and flower gardens.
Try native grasses instead of traditional lawn grasses (which tend to require herbicides to look their best). Consider including clover in your lawn mix, as it is a nitrogen fixer and may increase the health and growth of other grasses while outcompeting weeds.
Embrace the natural diversity of bugs and insects in your surroundings. Realize that if there is an infestation, often it means the system is out of balance. Maybe you need to plant a wider variety of plants to attract beneficial insects to eat the pests.
Finally, but maybe most urgently, invest in a water filtration system in your home! Reverse osmosis is a good choice in my opinion, and claims to remove 97-99% of contaminants (this includes herbicides and pesticides).
When considering the use of herbicides and pesticides…just don’t. Ideally, use techniques for your yard and gardens that I laid out in this post to choke out weeds and avoid pest problems in the first place.
Yes, you may incur the wrath of fastidious lawn-keeper neighbors…but just try to keep everything tidy, possibly with neatly mowed edges around a wild area to show your care. (Benjamin Vogt calls this “cues to care”.)
Maybe have a frank discussion about what you’re doing (or NOT doing) and why. Maybe, if you choose the native plant approach (as I sincerely hope you will!), put out some pamphlets or info on what exactly you’re trying to accomplish.