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The dark side of lasagna gardening

Sheet mulching in relation to recycling


Also see: Barkdust Benefits, Calculating, Ordering


Copyright 2009 - 2017 by Mario D. Vaden

The meaning of dark side does not mean bad. It means that little light has been shed from this angle of the subject. A vast assortment of organic gardening pages already exist about using paper products for sheet mulching in gardens. That's where plenty of light was shed on other aspects. There are reams of articles about sheet mulching or lasagana gardening. But none that I read prior to writing this discussed what happens when paper and cardboard are removed from the recycling process in urban areas.

sustainable no-till sheet-mulch gardening

Lasagna Gardening is the practice of mulching with layers, often by laying newspaper, cardboard or paper over soil or vegetation, covered over with compost, straw, bark or other mulch. This page introduces sheet mulching from a broader perspective, including resources and environment. This is an if-the-shoe-fit's topic for gardeners in areas where recycling is available with comparable benefits.

Lasagna gardening can be called sheet gardening or sheet composting and is commonly used for no-dig gardening, some organic gardeners, and a few lazy gardeners. The practice is often promoted as an easy way to garden, sometimes skipping weeding, cultivation, double digging and other work that involves other work and effort.

Lasagna no-till gardening generally does not need herbicides when the first layers are spread and some gardeners may have that in mind. But how can this practice affect the environment or resources locally, and more distant?

Consider a few facts

If gardeners stockpile or hoard cardboard for sheet mulching, those resources cannot be recycled to promote green living or reduce the impact of our lifestyle on the environment. In this way, practitioners of no-dig gardening may sacrifice an environmental benefit. And the resource they won't recycle back into paper products, simply decays. Recycled cardboard needs just 75% of the energy used to make new cardboard, and decreases the emission of sulfur dioxide - Wikipedia Sulfur Dioxide - produced when making new pulp from trees.

Even putting aside from the aspectt of air environment, removing paper or cardboard from the stream of recycling uses more energy reserves.

Sheet mulching increases energy use; increases sulfur dioxide emissions; requires more trees to be cut and processed; increases labor and wage expense; and wastes water, oil and energy

Sources, with some variation, state the same basic information. Recycling 1 ton of cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil and 6.6 milion Btu's of energy. Recycling 1 ton of paper spares 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 79 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution and 4,077 Kilowatt hours of energy. Recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution. All things considered, Lasagna no-till gardening can have a larger carbon footprint and cause more pollution. Working with the earth and exerting more exercise may be the better alternative.

One alternative worth exploring as an alternative to paper, would be using different kinds of leaves from the property, flattened beneath a layer of compost or mulch. I've used just mulch countless times for some customers. The last time prior to writing this, was laying several inches of barkdust mulch over a lawn area to change it to a shrub bed area. That got rid of more than 99% of the grass. The time to shovel out the remaining 1% of grass was far less than the work to collect and lay down paper or cardboard. So using mulch alone in a layer may be the better sheet mulch option in some yards. Its just that the sheet is 100% mulch and 0% paper.

If you search for facts about recycling cardboard, many references will be found with this information. There are literally scores of municipal and other websites with the information. Here is a generic reference on just paper recycling from Wikipedia:

Recycling Paper Article - Wikipedia

The broader look at sheet mulching should not be controversial if we simply look at information. Gardeners who want to improve simply glean more information and choose a plan. In areas where curbside or local recycing is not available, sheet mulching may be a desireable alternative allowing cardboard or paper to decay and return to the earth rather than filling a landfill.

The goal here is to add a few more pieces of information online.

And it's not a matter of whether lasagna gardening sheet mulch is right or wrong. This all boils down to offering more than one choice for our paper products and gardening practices.

You could be surprised at the number of oddball emails I receive from people who misinterpret this page and assume I'm saying do not lasagna-garden with paper products. The page never says that. A few pry individual sentences away from the entire message. But it's nice to know,at this end that there are about 100 times more positive email from people in regards to all the topics combined

Remember, there are reams already written about lasagna gardening, including the good application of it. The purpose of this page is not to reinvent the wheel. It was put online to cover an aspect rarely covered by the other resources.