Glyphosate is used extensively in agriculture, along highways, in commercial nurseries, and by homeowners. Each year more than 250 million pounds of this readily available weed killer is used in America, and studies have indicated that exposure to glyphosate causes cancer. It has also been shown to destroy beneficial bacteria in our bodies, disrupting the natural balance of good vs. bad bacteria and can lead to diseases such as diabetes, allergies, obesity, and heart disease.
Environmentally, it degrades the soil, contaminates water sources, destroys habitats, and reduces the availability of nectar sources for pollinators. It is also thought to interfere with honey bee navigation and messes with microbes in their gut, making the bees more susceptible to dangerous pathogens.
So Why Is Glyphosate Considered to Be Safe?Glyphosate testing conducted by manufacturers is done in a laboratory-controlled environment without using any of the other ingredients found in their over-the-counter products. However, scientists have found that the “inactive ingredients” combined with glyphosate in commercially-made weed killers amplify the toxic effects.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology by researchers at the Royal Holloway University of London found that several Roundup® formulations with varying percentages of glyphosate are toxic to bumblebees. Even one containing no glyphosate proved lethal, indicating that the unnamed other ingredients that the manufacturers are not required to disclose are the ones killing the bumblebees.
There are many glyphosate products on the market with no information on the additional ingredients. So, consumers can’t know which ones contain a toxic cocktail harmful to pollinators (and humans).
Are there any alternatives to the dangerous chemicals? Yes! Safer options do exist. They are not as quick and easy as chemical pesticides but are much safer for you and the environment.
Alternatives to Chemical Herbicides
Pull Weeds Up by hand, hoe, shovel, or other tools. It works for small areas. Try to get the offensive plant up by the roots. Early spring is the best time to get the young weeds uprooted.
Disturb the Soil as Little as Possible to prevent bringing buried weed seeds to the surface. Refrain from tilling or digging any deeper than needed to plant seeds.
Don’t Give Weeds Room to Grow Dense ground cover will not allow any unwanted visitors to peek up through your flowers.
Mulching with a layer of organic material (compost, bark, wood chips, grass clippings, leaves, straw, etc.) will smother and prevent weeds from growing. A layer of mulch will also help retain water in the soil.
You can cover your garden plot with cardboard, or newspaper for a few months to destroy grass and weeds ahead of planting time. You could also leave the biodegradable cardboard layer and cover it with woodchips or other organic materials such as soil or leaves.
Solarizing or covering the ground with a heavy plastic sheet works for baking the weeds until they are brown and very dead. It takes about 4-6 weeks in full sun. This works great to prepare larger areas for planting a garden or reseeding.
Boiling Water will get those hard-to-pull weeds creeping up between the paving stones in walkways or patios, as well as cracks in pavement or cement. I’ve never tried this method, but it couldn’t hurt to try.
One more thing you need to be aware of and can play a role in reducing – herbicide drift.
Even though residential use of herbicides is extremely high, with glyphosate being the number one product of choice, we have to be concerned about other poisons that are widely used. Homeowners generally apply weed killers directly to the area they want to concentrate on. On the other hand, agricultural operations spray large areas before crops are sown and also during the growing season. The chemicals applied by tractors spread out as the mist envelopes the fields.
Herbicides such as glyphosate, dicamba, and 2, 4-D (used in Agent Orange in Vietnam) drift to nearby woodlands, residential areas, and water sources, contaminating them with toxic substances. They pose significant threats to wild plants degrading food sources for wildlife and pollinators. Oh yeah, they affect cultivated lands and humans too. Unfortunately, most of the damage goes unreported resulting in more and more commercial applications of these hazardous concoctions to farmer’s fields.
How do we fix this herbicide drift? Monitor and report the damage. Take photos and document the date of observation, location, the species affected, and, if possible, the source. Report your findings to the Ecological Pesticide Incident Reporting portal. They will forward the information directly to EPA, and your state pesticide regulatory agency.
It can take a few days to several weeks for plants to show any injury. Species vulnerable to the overspray include the American sycamore, Eastern redbud, dogwoods, elms, ash, box elder, and fruit trees like peaches and apples. Sensitive crops such as legumes, tomatoes, peppers, grapes, sweet potatoes, and melons are at grave risk. And don’t forget the wildlife and insects who depend on these as well as many other native plants for food and shelter.
Now is the time to stop the use of residential and commercial herbicides!