Is Your Organic Compost Really Organic?

May 12th

Last month I needed to purchase about 4 yards of compost for my new garden. For the past few years I relied on a local composting company that is well known and loved by many Seattleites. This company takes in the yard and food waste from thousands of businesses and residents in the Seattle area. But the last time I purchased compost from them I ran into a large amount of plastic bits and it made me start to wonder what does the organic label actually mean on compost. 

Surprise, surprise it means squat.

Now, my organic chemistry teacher would argue that all compost is organic since it’s made from organic materials. Meaning organic versus inorganic. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m concerned about is pesticide, herbicide, fungicide, and other nasty chemical residues entering my garden through what should be a beneficial soil amendment. What I’m concerned about is GMO contaminated seeds some how finding their way into my garden because it was pooped out by a cow and turned into compost. 

No, I shouldn’t say there is no regulations. But basically there really isn’t. Things like the carbon and nitrogen ratio and the type of materials used to make compost are considered in a certified organic labeling scheme. But I was surprised to find out that non-organic feedstock can be used to make organic compost and no limits on contamination or testing is done federally to ensure safety and label claims. I think it’s deceptive that we are allowing companies to label their product organic and charge a premium when in essence it may be opposite of what we imagine when we think organic.

Of course the answer is obvious. I should be making my own compost. But for a urban resident with limited space who’s compost pile isn’t adequate enough to provide all the compost I need for my garden there should be a way to obtain real organic compost that is free from all the pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and GMO products that I normally pay a premium for to avoid my food.

well there’s no real good solution for this week at this time I also don’t want to discourage folks from using compost. As one of my favorite college professors used to tell me,compost is a panacea for almost all soil problems.

But for now I’m going to start looking into ways I can increase my output of compost and question the next time I see an organic label on the bag of compost or garden soil.

Photo credit: Kessner Photography, 2006. Title: Real Compost. Licensed under Creative Commons 2.5.