The Pesticide Problem
What the chemical giants stand to lose, local lawn care companies stand to gain. But fear is a great motivator. Consider the Luddites of 19th Century Britain. Named after their mythical leader, Ned Ludd, these roaming bands of English textiles workers protested against the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. They marched, smashing the textiles machines they feared would replace their skilled labor. For their efforts, many were rewarded with the gallows or a one-way ticket to a penal colony. Ironically, the Industrial Revolution that they opposed triggered exponential economic growth, not only in the textile industry, but in virtually all other labor intensive industries throughout the world.
Rather than fighting the trend away from chemical maintenance, lawn care companies should be championing these bylaws. Non-chemical lawn care is much more labor intensive, and hence more costly than chemical lawn maintenance. In non-chemical lawn care, the standard of bi-annual spraying that most chemical companies employ is replaced by such maintenance functions as fertilizing, aerating, hand-weeding, de-thatching and over seeding. Since many of these activities are done on an as needed basis, that bi-annual visit can translate into monthly (or more) check ups. Like the Luddites of old, lawn care companies may be forced to change the way they do business. However, those willing to adapt can see that change evolves into an opportunity to expand and diversify their companies.
The proof is in the numbers. Despite the growing trend away from chemically based lawn care, Toronto lawn companies are showing substantial growth. A recently released report by the City of Toronto’s Health Department cites data from Statistics Canada showing a 30 percent increase in the lawn care and landscaping sector since 2001. It should be noted at the same time, pesticide use has decreased significantly. According to the Interim Evaluation of Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw, “From 2003 to 2005 the proportion of Toronto residents who report any pesticide use on their lawns has decreased by 35 percent.”
The report is a follow-up to the Toronto bylaw, which was passed in 2003, and has been gradually phased in. As of April 1, 2004, Public Health Inspectors responded to calls about suspected pesticide use with a cautionary letter and information about alternatives. Since September 1, 2005, lawn care companies, commercial property owners and other non-residential pesticide users were subject to tickets or summons for violating the city bylaw. Violators were also provided with educational materials. The final phase of the bylaw goes into effect September 1, 2007, when residents can be ticketed for violations. First offenders will receive a warning letter. Everyone gets the same educational materials.
While all of this public education has played a major role, according to the report it’s the bylaw that was the key to helping wean Toronto’s lawns and gardens off drugs. It was from 2003, when the bylaw was passed, to 2005, that residential pesticide use dropped by 35 percent. Over the same period, in London, Ontario, the only city with comparable data, there was a reported 9 percent drop in pesticide use. It’s important to note that London’s pesticide bylaw wasn’t passed until 2006.
The conclusion, according to the report, “Toronto Public Health credits these early signs of success in reducing the number of people and companies using pesticides to its dual implementation strategy based on broad public education and graduated, firm enforcement.”
Given the huge amount of public support behinds these bylaws, it’s likely that Ontario will respond with provincial legislation, much like it did in the case of regional and municipal smoking bans. When that happens, smart lawn care companies will be ready.
The Environmental Factor is already there. This all-Canadian company holds the patent on Canada’s first non-chemical pesticide. Visit www.environmentalfactor.com
For a copy of the report, Interim Evaluation of Toronto’s Pesticide Bylaw, to go www.toronto.ca.