tiny toxic scraps in the garden

You’d think stuff would be either suitable for composting or not. We know that organic material is biodegradable, and we know that metal and plastic things aren’t.  If only life were so simple … 

I used to be pretty laid back about what I chucked in the compost.  By trial and error I would find out what’s biodegradable.

Take those shopping bags we buy thinking we’re helping the planet by using them instead of plastic bags. After a few months I notice the worms are ignoring them and they look the same as they used to. I realize they are not biogradable.  Same for synthetic materials.  I never know for sure what synthetic looks like until I observe the absence of worms and the non-ragged pristine look.

I often find little scraps of white plastic in the compost and in the garden. Because they’re such small scraps I assumed they were in the process of biodegrading – therefore good for the garden.

The other day I was listening to a marine scientist talking about the plastic rubbish in the ocean.  Her research involved getting sea birds to regurgitate the plastic debris they had swallowed. That was good for the health of the sea birds and enabled a measurement of the damage we are doing to the environment.

What she said next was illuminating and shocking.  She said that plastic does not biodegrade in the sea. Instead it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. This is very dangerous to smaller sea creatures because the plastic ends up in their bodies and it contains poisonous toxins.

The penny dropped with a clang. That was what was happening in the compost and garden! The plastic wasn’t biodegrading, it was just breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces!

Plain cardboard and newspaper make worms, slaters, centipedes and tiny jumpy flea-like creatures happy, and provide a good medium for plants to grow. Unfortunately -  surprise, surprise - the commercial demand for shiny advertisements trumps the health of the environment.

I’m on a mission to pick up the tiny plastic scraps in the garden and compost, and put them where they belong - in the non- recyclable rubbish bin. 


  1. I thought this was interesting:


    When I was in America they managed with paper bags/sacks to carry shoppping.

  2. I'm surprised at some of the stuff that breaks down and some of it that doesn't. In Spring, when I'm digging around grounds, I'll find things that have lasted nearly 30 years!!! Kids plastic toys, twisty ties, old cardboard....it's rather shocking and disturbing at the same time.

  3. It's amazing what is in the compost when we dig it out to put on the garden. Your first photo showed the parcel tape which has been on carboard boxes, we always have loads of that, we have found the only way is to sort it as we are digging it out. Husband digs and I pounce on anything that looks as if it shouldn't be there, before we spread it on the garden.

  4. Yeah, I guess this stuff is all over the place...

  5. I notice the plastic builds up in my garden too. It is insidious and finds its way everywhere. I'd love if everything that is disposable is biodegradable! Wouldn't this be a great world?

  6. Plastic has made human life much conveninet and easier. But it can be also hazardous to nature and toxic to the body. I heard that using plastic in microwave is not a good thing.

  7. Dear Hermes, thanks for interesting link.

    Dear Roherbot, scary ... future archeologists will find it very easy to understand the past.

    Dear Pauline, I sort as well - cardboard boxes make great compost don't they?

    Dear Wendy, yes - too much all over the place.

    Dear Tina, insidious is unfortunately a good word to describe it.

    Dear Diana, I believe that specially treated plastic is OK - but I know people who don't trust microwaves and don't use them at all. during my childhood there was no plastic. We managed because we didn't know anything else.

    best cheers, catmint


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