Yesterday afternoon I was holed up at my work table, reading about organic cotton, and conventional textiles and toxic commercial dyes. I was working on the eco-groovy clothing chapter for the new book. Needing a stretch, I wandered out into the front yard. I noticed straightaway that the next-door neighbors had just heavily mulched their flower bed with a kind of mulch that's dyed red; it looks like dyed red hair. It's a garish bright red. Egads I said to myself. Their flower garden is just uphill from our organic vegetable garden, just a few feet away. I picked up a handful of red, red mulch and brought it inside, put it in a cup with a little water. After 30 seconds, I poured the water into a white cup. The water was dark red, opaque; the cup was stained red. I went back outside and looked at one of the mulch bags lying in their yard. It said "Red Colored Mulch." Manufactured by P&L Bark Nursery in Pageland, SC.
I came back inside and looked at one of the textiles articles I was reading. It said, "Virtually all commercial dyes are toxic, made from petrochemicals with heavy metals."
Okay so now what, I wondered. I really like the neighbors, a nice couple with a 14-year-old son. But I definitely didn't want that stuff in the veg garden. So I went and knocked on the door,
I showed him the red cup and explained about the organic garden, and toxic dyes. "But" he said "I thought if the government says it's okay, you know, if they sell it at Home Depot, it must be okay." Well. "I used to think that too," I said. "Then I started reading. Started calling people, interviewing people. Just because someone sells it, doesn't mean it's okay." We talked, in a friendly way. I told him I would be happy to scoop it all up myself, buy more un-dyed mulch and lay it down. I just needed permission to begin. He called his mom on her cell.
An hour later we were all scooping up mulch. In about 30 or 40 minutes we scooped up 8 bags of red, red mulch, enough to fill both roll-out trash bins, theirs and ours. We cleared it out of their flower garden. I offered to buy more mulch, 8 more bags. They declined.
We actually had a very friendly conversation during the whole thing. I was very nice, they were very nice. It probably improved our relationship. I was as extremely affirming of the son as I could be at every step. He deserves it; he's a neat kid.
The next morning I put money to reimburse them for all the mulch into a card, a nice card, and taped it to the inside of their door. Said do what you like with it.
Now they have mulch-less flower bed. The soil is still a little red, from the one watering he gave it before I saw it.