Safer Chemicals In The Garden

Consumers are demanding more environmentally safer products and garden chemicals are no exception…

Customers who purchase garden chemicals over the counter these days are more concerned than ever about their potential impact on the environment. They also worry about the potential health hazards from using garden chemicals which is why many gardeners are taking the initiative and choosing environmentally friendly garden practices.

So what does it mean for retailers?

Quite simply, there’s more demand for safer alternatives on the shelves of garden retailers. We live in an era where climate change is accepted by many as inevitable. Most people share in the belief that something needs to be done and recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics support this by showing that the overwhelming majority of Australians (90%) use at least one type of Environmentally Friendly Product. (ABS: Australia’s Environment Issues And Trends 2006). Environmentally Friendly Products (EFPs) are products which have less of an impact on the environment and on human health when compared to other products that serve the same purpose. As with other industries, EFPs have gradually made their way into the garden retail market. Garden chemicals are a sizeable segment. Another ABS report found that out of the 3 million households that reported growing their own fruit or vegetables in their garden in 2004, nearly 29% said that they use pesticides or weedkillers (ABS 4602.0 – Environmental Issues: People’s Views And Practices, Mar 2004 – Use Of Environmentally Friendly Products, Fertilisers And Pesticides). This is where safer chemicals come in. Although well known chemical brands will always command a loyal customer base, the availability of products with safer actives is going to be a tempting alternative. Not only the do promote natural ingredients but they might also grab new customers who would otherwise be put off by the long list of warnings on some current labels.

A major contributor to the increased demand for EFPs in the garden sector is the rise of organic gardening and farming. Unfortunately, it is also one that can create confusion for consumers. Organic products avoid synthetic fertilisers and pesticides as much as possible, paving the way for so-called natural pesticides, such as those derived from plants. However, this can be confusing when natural pesticides that are not organic certified appear next to natural pesticides that are. Australia’s Standards body SAI Global is currently working on official certification for organic products.

But haven’t we seen this before?

Anyone who’s been in the business long enough will recall how this is not the first time there has been widespread promotion of a ‘green’ mentality. Sadly, intentions have not always been quite so genuine over the years and the existence of the term ‘greenwash’ – coined in the early nineties to describe a company, government, or other organisation that advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite manner – attests to this. Nonetheless, all the signs suggest that it’s ‘for real’ this time. In partiuclar, demand is consumer driven rather than company driven.

One factor that prevents consumers from readily taking up EFPs is cost. A trend over the years showed that 31% of people cited this as the reason in 1998, 36% in 2001 and 39% in 2004. As these products gain more acceptance, and as competition increases in this category, price naturally becomes more affordable.

Finally, there are some things to look out for when purchasing chemicals. Depending on the chemical’s level of toxicity, it is important to note if child resistant cap lids are present. Proper packaging and especially proper caps will also lower the likelihood of spillage in store. Customers also tend to like products that are easy to handle and comfortable to use and apply. Add ons such as a measuring cap on the product itself or a nice handy bottle are good incentives. Also, make sure the product’s MSDS (Material Safety Data sheet) sheet is handy in the event of further customer questions.