In the times we now live in, everything from food products to household items is commercially produced.
Diabetes, cancer and other lifestyle diseases are on the rise every day.
More and more people are becoming concerned about their health.
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They wish to eat healthy food that is free from dangerous chemicals and toxins. Commercially produced food is grown on a large scale and mainly sold in stores and supermarkets.
During its growth, the food is exposed to tonnes of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. These chemicals have adverse effects, not just on the health of human beings but on the environment as well.
Consequently, more and more people now, prefer to grow their food at home without using any synthetic additives or chemicals. This practice is what is known as organic farming.
Organic farming provides a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of producing food. No type of chemicals whatsoever is used in the farming process.
Farmers instead use organic products to enhance the growth of their plants and to deal with pests for example by using animal manure and mulch. This sort of farming is cost-effective, protects the environment, and promotes people’s health.
Do pvc pipe plastic leach toxins in an organic farm?
Every organic farmer, however, faces the challenge of plastic especially pvc pipes. This is because organic farming is normally carried out by individuals on their apartment balconies or backyards.
Since these spaces are very small, farmers have to resort to using plastic to assist them in their noble organic farming venture.
Plastic in its many shapes and form will be used in the garden as plant trays, seed cups, plant holders, or water reservoirs. This ubiquitous use of plastic is one hand extremely environmentally friendly.
This is because it encourages the re-using, reducing wastage and recycling of plastic. On the other opposite hand, however, it is a big concern for human and plant health.
Leaching is a known risk accrued from using plastic. Polyvinyl chlorides are the most dangerous. Plastic is thus a double-edged sword that comes with multiple advantages and disadvantages.
However, before passing verdict on plastics concerning the danger they pose on soil and plant health, it is first important to understand what plastics are, their uses, and the various types that exist.
Understanding the different types of plastic
To examine whether plastic is safe to use in organic farming, it is best to first examine the different types of plastic that exist.
There are 7 different kinds of plastic in existence.
These plastics vary greatly in quality, durability, and strength.
They are as follows;
Polyethylene Terephthalate Plastics (PTE)
Also known as type 1 plastic, this is the most common type of plastic that exists.
It is mainly used in the manufacture of plastic bottles and food packaging containers.
This type of plastic is very light. It easily disintegrates when exposed to prolonged and excessive amounts of heat and light.
When this form of plastic breaks down it leaches chemicals known as phthalates into the soil.
The fact that it can easily break down when exposed to heat and light for a long period, makes it dangerous to use in organic farming.
These chemicals are dangerous to human health and thus it is very sensitive to ensure that they never come into contact with food.
High-Density Polyethylene Plastic (alias HDPE)
This is also known as type 2 plastic. Unlike polyethylene terephthalate, high-density polyethylene is much stronger.
It is white and cloudy in appearance. It is durable and can be reused infinitely.
This form of plastic is used in the making and manufacture packaging containers for milk, detergent, and food.
It is the best form of plastic for storing food items. This is because it is highly resistant to heat and ultraviolet rays.
This quality makes it very safe to use in gardening. One is assured that no matter how long it stays out in the garden, it will not leach any chemicals.
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
This is arguably the best known and most common type of plastic ever made.
It used almost everywhere in almost every sector of production or manufacture.
It is used to make water pipes, tools, detergent bottles, and sometimes toys.
It is a very weak form of plastic. Polyvinyl chloride breaks down very quickly when exposed to sunlight and heat.
This form of plastic contains chlorine and just like polyethylene terephthalate, it also contains phthalates. Such a quality makes it very harmful to use in growing food.
The ingestion of phthalates into our system is known to interfere with hormonal balance in our bodies.
Such a phenomenon can adversely affect the reproduction capabilities of women and cause barrenness.
Low-Density Polyethylene Plastic (LDPE)
This is a plastic type that is very safe for your use.
Its safety levels are so reliable, such that it is mass-produced to make food packaging bags and containers.
This makes this form of plastic totally safe to use in organic farming as it does not leach any dangerous chemicals.
This form of plastic is used in making items like straws and food containers.
Polypropylene is a very strong and heat resistant kind of plastic.
However, scientists and researchers have discovered that this type of plastic leaches chemicals into the soil.
As such, it is not safe for use in gardening.
Just like low-density polyethylene, this form of plastic is approved for use in packaging food.
Its most common form is Styrofoam, which is used to make coffee cups and disposable plates.
Since it is approved for packaging food, it is also good to use in gardening.
However, though safe it may prove to be of not much use in the garden due to its porous and weak structure.
This is the most dangerous form of plastic that exists in the world of plastic. It has been known to release Bisphenol A. This is a chemical that has linked to causing certain forms of cancer.
Ironically, plastic is used in the manufacture of water bottles, food containers, and car parts. Polycarbonate should be avoided at all costs. It should be used for anything be it household and kitchen item or gardening.
These are a modern form of plastics. Bioplastics are designed to biodegrade without leaving behind any harmful chemicals. They are made from vegetable oils and fats. Therefore, they are as organic as plants.
Bioplastics do not have any traces of phthalates, chlorine, or any other type of petrochemicals. Thus, these plastics are environmentally friendly and safe. They can safely be used in organic farming of tomatoes, lettuce, wheat-grass and many more.
Advantages of using plastic
Using plastic is a very common trend in gardening. This has been brought about by the lack of space for farming.
Plastic has so many uses and various products can be molded from it; be it wheelbarrows, containers, pipes, indoor garden kits and gardening tools. It is not difficult to see why there is such widespread use of it.
The following advantages cement this fact;
Many forms of plastic can withstand the test of time. These plastics are not only tough and strong but are also heat resistant. They are also able to stand the strain of ultraviolet light.
Such qualities make them useful in gardening. This is because they can be reused infinitely many times again and again.
Plastic is a ubiquitous material. It is everywhere and can be found anywhere. This makes it very affordable to purchase. Moreover, if one does not wish to purchase any plastic items to use in farming, one can simply reuse plastic items found around the house or on the streets.
Plastic is extremely versatile. There are infinite ways of using plastic. One item can easily double up as two.
A plastic container can not only be used as a flowerpot but can also double up as watering can or even a place to store seeds.
- Reusable and recyclable
Of all qualities of plastic, the most important of them all, is the ability to reuse and recycle it. One plastic container can be used again and again over a very long period.
When it can no longer be used, it can be melted down and molded into something else. This infinite reusing and eventual recycling of plastic is cost saving.
Health risks when using plastic in organic plastics
When it comes to using gardening products made of plastic, there are many very many advantages and benefits to be enjoyed. Plastic is not only cheap but also very accessible.
Due to this, using it in organic farming becomes a common choice for a lot of people. However, leaching of poisonous chemicals and substances into the soil is a major concern for soil health as well as human health.
Plastic is made from petrochemicals that contain tonnes of dangerous substances such as phthalates and chlorine. When plastics are placed in heat they degrade releasing these substances.
It is thus possible to envision that if such plastics are used in organic farming, these dangerous substances will find their way into the plants, onto our tables, and into our bodies.
Substances such as phthalates are not just dangerous to our general health but to our reproductive systems in particular.
They have been proven to affect the hormonal balance in women and cause barrenness. It is prudent to prevent this irreversible damage from happening. To protect ourselves it is best to steer clear of plastics.
However, if this is impossible, it is imperative to use plastics that have been proven not to leach chemicals into the soil.
These plastics as examined before, are high-density polyethylene, low-Density polyethylene, and bioplastics. Such plastics are strong and durable. They are resistant to heat and ultraviolet light.
Leaching dangerous chemicals is not an issue with them and thus they can be safely used in gardening and growing food.
Alternatives to plastic
If using plastic is gardening is not an option for consideration, there are many other alternatives to have in mind.
By using any of these alternatives, one will be consuming produce that is fully organically farmed.
They alternatives are as follows:
Wood is a wonderful alternative to growing food in plastic containers. One can utilize wooden pots and containers to plant flowers or crops. Wood comes from trees that grow from the ground. Nothing can be more organic.
There are no risks of having dangerous chemicals leaching into your soil and eventually in your crops. Wood also has the same advantages of plastic.
If the containers are taken care of properly, it is possible to use them very many times, for years on end. However, to be safe the wood should be untreated.
Wood is treated using a chemical that may have adverse and very negative effects on the bodies of human beings.
- Stone or concrete
Gardening tools, containers and pots that are made of stone and concrete are another very good alternative to plastic. They are durable, strong, non-corrosive and resistant to extreme heat and light.
Stone is majorly a very inert material. It does not react with any substances and this makes it very safe for use in gardening. Furthermore, such articles of farming can be used as house and compound decorating items.
Clay is nothing but soil. The soil just like stone is extremely inert. Pots and containers made of clay are properly safe for use in gardening. One is assured that gardening pots made of clay, are not contaminated with harmful chemicals.
Organic gardening is aimed at producing healthy and safe foods to eat. Using plastic in gardening is not necessarily safe.
Plastic is made from petrochemicals. If used in gardening, many of these chemicals leach into the soil. Plants then absorb these chemicals from the soil.
When eaten, the toxic substances are ingested into the bodies of human beings and cause serious health issues.
To be safe, it is best to use gardening products made of alternative substances such as wood, stone, or clay. There is also the option of growing your plants using an Arogarden kit. These alternative substances are organic are pose no threat to human health.
If not possible to avoid using plastic products, it is best to use durable, heat, and ultraviolet resistant plastic such as high-density polyethylene plastics, or low-Density polyethylene, or better yet products made from bioplastics.
Avoid polycarbonate and polyvinyl chloride plastic planters. These are very dangerous to plant and human health.