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Is newsprint safe to use in the garden?

Experts, including organic gardening proponents, contend newsprint is

Experts, including organic gardening proponents, contend newsprint is safe for use in the garden. Photo Credit: AP

 Hi Jessica,

I get a lot out of reading your monthly calendars with gardening tips. There was a tip that you gave this month (November), concerning which I'd like to give you some feedback. You had recommended using newspapers to cover new beds. As newspapers decompose, all the heavy metals used for the print will go into the soil, and into the groundwater. For the black & white pages, that means lead (among other things). For the comics, with their colored dyes (green, red, etc.), that means cadmium (among other things). Those heavy metals will:

* Get into earthworms and other critters, and then poison the birds that feed on them
* Get into the crops that people are growing, so that children and adults will get an increase in their already heavy burden of environmental toxicities
* Get into the aquifers on places like L.I. that have them, and run off into springs and bays.

I would propose that it would be much healthier to use paper towels for these purposes. You also recommend cardboard, which would seem OK to me as there's relatively little printing on them. -- Dr. Richard Carlton, Port Washington

Hi, Richard.

Thanks for writing. I understand your concern about heavy metals and toxins, and the health and environmental risks they can pose if used in the garden.

You'll be happy to know that most U.S. newspapers, including Newsday, now use soy-based ink, which is safe to use in the garden and compost. It does not contain the lead, cadmium or chromium that is present in petroleum-based ink.

Soy-based color ink, which is low-VOC, is more commonly used than black because it produces brighter, crisper images than traditional ink. While some of the (black) newsprint still is petroleum-based, the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains it does not pose any threat if used as mulch or in compost., the website for Organic Gardening Magazine, actually recommends the use of black newsprint as a safe and effective mulch in both flower and vegetable gardens. The site does, however, advise against using color pages that are glossy around edibles.

I hope this helps.


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