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Can compost be truly organic? Part 2

Anyone who has taken a load of garden waste to their local household recycling centre and thrown it into the ‘green bin’ has a pretty good idea of what else is in there. Some people sling bits of painted wood into it. Old plastic toys might also end up there, as might fragments of wire, plastic ties and so on. The ‘green bin’ system at recycling centres relies on trust, and while it basically works, a quick check will usually reveal items that shouldn’t be in there. As we saw in the first part of this article, some of this material ends up in the finished product.

Even the green waste that should be in there isn’t ideal. Many people spray their gardens with pesticides and weedkillers: do you want the composted results of this on your organic garden? Together with contamination from chipboard, plastic and so on, there’s no chance at all that the contents of any ‘green bin’ would ever be certified as organic by the Soil Association. Unfortunately, there are no legal guidelines in place in the UK defining what the word ‘organic’ should actually mean when applied to compost. According to one of the sources contacted for this article, bags of so-called ‘organic’ compost could even contain crude oil. After all, it’s a naturally-occuring substance that comes straight out of the ground – but nobody in their right mind would consider putting it on their garden beds. Manufacturers can basically say just about anything they want.

Soil Association certification

To make matters worse, many compost manufacturers not only say their products are ‘organic’, they then mention some degree of Soil Association certification. There are several ways this can be phrased, including ‘Soil Association Organic’, ‘Soil Association Certified Product’, and ‘Soil Association Approved’. The first is the only one that can be used without restrictions to produce organic food. However, most readers will immediately assume that the compost is organic according to Soil Association standards simply because the words ‘organic’ and ‘Soil Association’ are both mentioned. After several weeks of research by Farm In My Pocket, not a single variety of bagged compost that is truly organic according to the Soil Association definition has been found.

If there is one out there, please get in touch with us – because not only will we want to use your compost, probably every single organic gardener in the UK will want to as well.

compost pic, image

So...what's in the bag? Is it REALLY organic?

To sum up, the current situation in the UK is as follows:

Some manufacturers make no claims to being either organic or SA certified. These are sure to contain chemical fertilizers.

Other manufacturers call their product ‘organic’ but make no mention of any kind of Soil Association approval. In these cases, you should be aware that their definition of  ‘organic’ may be very different from yours.

Last, there are manufacturers who not only call their product ‘organic’, they also mention the Soil Association in the sales blurb and maybe on the bag itself. However, the product still isn’t certified as organic in the same way that organic food is, so beware. If the ingredients include the composted contents of household recycling bins, then it also contains ground-up bits of wire, plastic, chipboard and more.

Clearly, the UK would benefit from legislation that makes the blurb and the printing on the bag adhere to a standard that we can actually believe in – Soil Association Organic.

Do you feel misled? If so, you’re not alone. The next article will  include some direct quotes from members of the Soil Association.

To be continued in part III.

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2 Responses to “Can compost be truly organic? Part 2”

  1. kay says:

    I’ve been trying to source some Soil Association certified organic top soil to top up my veg beds. Have been very disappointed and surprised to find the very vagaries you describe among suppliers. I have my own compost aplenty but want the substance and minerals, etc. that soil would provide, as everything seems a bit too fluffy in the veg beds. I would, as you say, be keen to know if anyone is supplying the “right stuff”.
    Don’t know what an RSS feed is but will try to subscribe in hopes of being kept informed of any further news on the subject -hopefully before spring runs out!

  2. Mark Gatter says:

    Hi Kay,
    Sorry to say, as far as we know there are NO certified organic topsoils commercially available. There’s not a single truly organic commercial compost, and only one truly organic soil conditioner, ‘Moorland Gold’, which is made from naturally eroded peat. So there’s nothing we can point you at! Which is pretty sad, really. Even more sad is that it’s probably going to get worse. Good luck! If we find one, we’ll let you know.

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