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Cardboard safe in the vegetable garden?

inespilar
March 13, 2012

I have been using brown cardboard in the vegetable garden to get the weeds under control. Trying to understand if the glue used in the boxes is safe in the vegetable garden. Not a chemist, tried googling and it seems like it's corn starched based but has several "chemicals" added to it. Anyone have any thoughts on this? Thanks.

Comments (19)

  • bi11me

    Organic gardeners who aren't certified make some concessions all the time to less-than-ideal, but free, resources. The glue will be a very small percentage in comparison to the overall soil volume, but it is also a very small percentage on the box itself - only along some edges. You could always just cut off the affected cardboard with a utility knife; it's not like you're ever going to be using it as a box again.

  • myluck

    While your checking out the glue, check out the cardboard that is flame resistant too. Some cardboard is treated and you can't tell it's there

  • Kimmsr

    To some people starch, which is used to hold the paper that makes cardboard together, and glue are the same things. They are not, quite. While both are adhesives starches are made from food products, things you eat every day. If you get some cardboard that has been made water resistant you may need to be concerned about "chemicals", but starch is a "chemical" anyway.

  • inespilar

    I must say I am totally confused and the thought that some boxes may be treated to be resistant to water and fire really freaks me out. What I have read by doing some minimal googling is that the glue is part of the corrugation so it's throughout the box. And that the glue comprises corn starch PLUS chemicals. This being America, I would doubt it would be just corn starch. (I mean, you actually need to seek out chlorine free diapers --who on earth thought it was necessary to have bleached white disposal diapers?? it's not like they are going to stay that way for long!) I noticed Induspac uses corn starch and water....in the EU. Maybe it's not worth the trouble. I may just email Amazon and ask them about their boxes since that's like 50% of my box volume and then just recycle the rest. I really appreciate everyone's feedback.

  • Kimmsr

    Single ply cardboard, ie food packaging, does not have any kind of adhesive (glue) while the cardboard boxes those foods are shipped in probably will. Since they are food packaging they must meet certain standards and the adhesives (glues) must be food safe. A cardboard box an appliance is shipped in, not containing edibles, might possibly have different adhesives (glues) and they do not have to be food safe.
    There are many different types of adhesives (glues) out there some edible, kind of more or less (is flour paste really edible?), and others not at all. What adhesives are used on the cardboard you will be using in your garden is not going to be a large problem, or one of much concern. You get much worse stuff mixed in the rain that falls on your garden.

  • wildrosesocal

    I read somewhere that corrugated cardboard glue is animal based, from cow hooves or something. Remember the jokes about old horses and the glue factory. The site was about vermiculture and how good shredded cardboard worked, the fluffiness was ideal and the animal based glue was a benefit.

    A commercial grade shredder is on my radar wish list. I'd love to convert free cardboard to a great soil amendment. Finding a shredder that handles cardboard is the hard part. The website person had come across one for about $100. Tearing cardboard by hand is not fun. I never considered chemicals.

    Regards,
    wildrose

  • Kimmsr

    Some adhesives are made from animal parts and those are typically used in wood working, not in holding cardboard together. Making adhesives from the starches from corn or potatoes is much less expensive then from animal parts.

  • jolj

    No-till beds are built on cardboard boxes, are you saying that they are not organic?

  • bi11me

    Direct from the OMRI website:

    Generic Materials Search: paper

    Cardboard
    Status: Allowed with Restrictions
    Class: Crop Fertilizers and Soil Amendments, Crop Pest, Weed, and Disease Control
    Origin: Synthetic
    Description:
    Cardboard that is not waxed or impregnated with synthetic fungicide may only be used as mulch for weed control or as compost feedstock. See also PAPER.
    NOP Rule: 205.601(b)(2)(i) As herbicides, weed barriers, as applicable... Mulches... Newspaper or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks.

    Remember that this is the Federal mandate for certification, and home gardeners can use their own best judgement as to what they accept in their gardens.

    Here is a link that might be useful: OMRI paper, plastic, cardboard etc.

  • wildrosesocal

    Thanks B for that very specific information. It clears up all the questions.

    Regards,
    wildroseSoCal

  • inespilar

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  • e_fit_hav

    DO NOT USE CARDBOARD. The glue today are POLYMERS (plastic), not cornstarch, you can't eat it. Today, cardboard is treated with retardant chemicals: termite retardant, moisture retardant, flame retardant, roach retardant, food spoilage retardant, water retardant, heat retardant, fire retardant and ant and other insect retardant. 20 years ago, they sprayed gas on bananas to prevent spoilage, which was outlawed, so they added RETARDANT CHEMICALS TO THE PACKAGING. Instead spray or pour this: 1 c. salt + 1 gallon vinegar + 1/4 c Dawn dish washing detergent. Use layers of BROWN butcher paper. Fold it over a couple+ times; you may have to lay more down later. Keep working with your soil by adding natural waste like dried leaves & grass, hay; then mix it in the soil between plantings. Put it on thick as you can. It will make pulling grass easier and eventually grass won't grow there. I used to hate weeding, until I realized it was good therapy. I thought about things, vegetables and flowers did better, I noticed my muscles were taking shape, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment and pride.

  • e_fit_hav

    One more thing, government guidelines such as OMRI - you have to remember that everything with the government is a political compromise.

  • Eric Ford

    http://www.adhesivesmag.com/articles/84472-packaging-enduser-starch-and-dextrin-based-adhesives

    This is a basic primer on packaging glues. Various further additives could include anti-fungals or some forms of viscosity and curing modifying compounds. A large draw for cardboard is the low cost and ease of use in the manufacturing adhesives, which means the more complicated and therefore more expensive the formula, the fewer uses a glue has in reference to finances. Without an msds for your specific product in your hands, it's hard to say for sure, however my non-chemical/medical doctorate holding guess would be fairly benign.

  • Eric Ford

    Additional note, while basic formulas for starch adhesives are pretty simple and safe, botg white craft and wood glues are made with Vinyl Acetate. The MSDS for Vinyl Acetate lists it as a flammable known carcinogen. So maybe steer clear of throwing little Suzie's craft papers or botched glued woodworking projects in the garden recycling mix.

  • jolj

    Sometimes we gag at a fly & swallow a horse.

    If you drive or ride in a car that uses petroleum, then cardboard is not your main problem.

  • James Dees

    Sounds like we need to question whether the cardboard is really necessary? Just because we saw it at a permaculture workshop does not mean our garden needs it.

  • jolj

    James Dee,

    I used large thick cardboard boxes in my blue berry patch,this keep the weeds & briars down for 3 years, some what the fourth & fifth years. I did not worry about the glue, because many site have debated this & most believe the soy glue is used.

    I think it fairs better then great grandads gasoline trick or weed killer, & cardboard box last longer than burlap & plastic wrap.

  • jolj

    Also the boxes came from a food plant & are used to store food grade products & do NOT have all the above listed retardants, because they are not food grade.

    NOTE: food grade means you can eat it or eat off it.

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