Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 9, 2007
Toss the poison and pick up the trowel
Pesticides are being weeded out and lawn care businesses are blossoming
By SUZANNE ELSTON
The war on pesticides is currently being fought in council chambers and public meetings across this country. To date, an estimated 125 municipalities in six provinces have pesticide bylaws.
In virtually every case, it is the lawn care companies, backed by the multi-billion dollar pesticide industry, that rigorously opposed the establishment of these bylaws. The pesticide industry fears any restriction on the use of lawn chemicals.
Lawn care growing
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 the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. They marched, smashing the textiles machines they feared would replace their skilled labour.
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 labour-intensive industries throughout the world.
Prune those fears
Rather than fighting the trend away from chemical maintenance, lawn care companies should be championing these bylaws.
Non-chemical lawn care is much more labour 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 per cent 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 per cent."
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 Sept. 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 Sept. 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 per cent.
Over the same period, in London, Ont., the only city with comparable data, there was a reported nine per cent drop in pesticide use. It's important to note that London's pesticide bylaw wasn't passed until 2006.
Educate and enforce
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 provincial governments will respond with province-wide legislation, much like they 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.
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