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Is Landscaping Fabric Food Safe? (The Research-Based Facts)

Is Landscaping Fabric Food Safe? (The Research-Based Facts)

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Landscaping fabric prevents weeds from taking root in your soil so your plants can grow healthy without needing herbicides. But since it’s sometimes made of petroleum-derived products like polyester and propylene, you might be wondering whether it’s food-safe, especially if you’re growing vegetables.

Landscaping fabric is food safe. These fabrics can be safely used around edible plants regardless of what material they’re made of. Landscaping fabric made of propylene and other petroleum-based materials is FDA-approved for food safety but is often not used in organic gardening.

In this article, I will explain how you can ensure the landscaping fabric you choose for your vegetable garden is healthy and food safe.

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I’ll look at the most common concerns people have about landscaping fabrics (especially the petroleum-based ones) and explore why this gardening fabric is considered safe for use around edible plants. 

Common Concerns About Landscaping Fabric

Landscaping fabric effectively encourages soil temperature stability and reduces moisture loss, giving plants the nutrients they need to grow. But, sometimes chemicals and potentially dangerous substances can be used in the production of landscaping fabric, causing people to worry that it’s unsafe.

Let’s debunk some of the most common worries people have about using this fabric on vegetables and other plants meant for human consumption.

The Use of Petroleum in Landscaping Fabric

A common type of substance used to make synthetic landscaping fabrics is petroleum. Some gardeners avoid using petroleum-based products around their plants to prevent unwanted chemical exposure (source).

It’s theorized that these chemicals can seep out of the landscaping fabric and enter the soil, eventually finding their way into the plants’ roots. 

However, it’s important to remember that when people speak about petroleum and how it can contaminate the soil, they usually refer to large-scale contamination, such as an oil spill. In such cases, some types of petroleum hydrocarbons can get absorbed by plants and become a health risk to wildlife and livestock in the surrounding area (source). 

The Use of Polypropylene in Landscaping Fabric

Another common material used to make landscaping fabric is polypropylene, a type of plastic. Most plastic products are made of 一 or at least contain 一 petroleum, and polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene (another popular landscaping fabric), and nylon are no different (source). 

However, polypropylene is said to be safe for vegetable gardens because it’s an FDA-approved material that’s considered safe for food usage (source).

Many containers that come into contact with food, such as yogurt tubs and potato chip packets, are made of polypropylene. 

Based on the above, you might feel confident about using landscaping fabric that contains polypropylene without worrying about its negative effects. 

Why Avoiding Petroleum-Based Landscaping Fabric Is Better for Organic Gardening

Not much research has been conducted on petroleum-based landscaping fabrics that come into contact with edible plants. However, petroleum has other negative traits you should be aware of, especially when it comes to preserving the environment.

If you’re interested in organic gardening, you should avoid synthetic landscaping fabric containing chemicals and toxins such as petroleum. Here’s why. 

  • It contributes to air pollution. When petroleum-based products, such as landscaping fabric, are manufactured, they release toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. 
  • It’s not biodegradable. Any type of petroleum-based landscaping fabric isn’t biodegradable. When it has done its job, and you want to remove it from your garden, it will likely end up in a landfill. A petroleum-based plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose, so it’s not earth-friendly. 
  • It’s potentially harmful to human health. Petroleum-derived products have been associated with health concerns such as cancer. These products include plastic and the lubricants/gasoline used to produce synthetic materials (source). However, the risk of health complications depends on how concentrated the substance is and the duration of one’s exposure to it. 

Healthy Alternatives to Landscaping Fabric

While landscaping fabric isn’t necessarily harmful to humans and can be used safely in the garden, synthetic materials used to make this fabric could make you want to steer away from it. 

You can use natural methods to keep weeds at bay if you don’t want to apply synthetic landscaping fabric to your vegetable beds, whether that’s because you are interested in organic gardening or want to reduce environmental pollution.

Here are some options to consider:

Mulch

Natural mulch blocks sunlight to prevent weeds from growing (source), so it’s an excellent alternative to landscaping fabric.

Mulch in the form of leaves, dried grass clippings, and compost work well to protect plants from weeds and reduce water runoff.

Cardboard

Since cardboard is biodegradable, it’s healthier for your soil and plants than synthetic landscaping fabric. To use it instead of landscaping fabric, all you have to do is cut it into sections. 

Even better for the environment, you can recycle cardboard from boxes in the home. Make sure the cardboard has no print or a shiny waxed finish; these materials aren’t biodegradable. 

If you like the idea of using recycled paper to reduce weeds in your vegetable garden, I recommend purchasing the Weed Guard Paper Mulch Roll (link to Amazon).

This landscaping fabric is made out of natural cellulose fiber that doesn’t contain any plastic. It’s 100% biodegradable, so you don’t have to worry about it ending up in a landfill.  

Pre-emergent Herbicide

You can safely use natural herbicides around your vegetables to prevent weeds from growing. Look for pre-emergent herbicides that contain corn gluten. This natural ingredient effectively kills weed seedlings before they can take root in your garden.

If you want to use a pre-emergent herbicide on your crops, I recommend Preen Garden Weed Preventer (link to Amazon). This product is safe to use around edible plants in the garden.

It works for up to three months to prevent weeds from sprouting, so it’s easier and safer to use than removing weeds from your vegetable garden with chemical herbicides.  

Conclusion

The bottom line is that using landscaping fabric to keep weeds at bay doesn’t pose any significant health risk. However, this fabric isn’t necessarily the most earth-friendly option you can choose because it’s derived from petroleum.

If you’d like to take better care of the environment, I suggest sticking to natural weed control methods. But as far as landscaping fabric’s food safety goes, you have nothing to worry about.

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Willie Moore
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