Ten years ago, I needed to present a sewer and water application at a meeting of the town’s Utility Board. I’ve been to my share of meetings. This one was memorable for two reasons. First, I was totally beguiled by how the meeting was run. There were eight people in attendance, nine including me. Prior to the start of the meeting, I was greeted and made to feel a welcome guest. The eight committee members covered every stratum of the economic and political map. They had different experiences and perspectives. The unifying factor was they all cared about their town. They cared enough to be on the Utilities Committee, not the world’s most thrilling activity. I’m sure any one of them could think of better ways to spend a weekday evening after work. The truly remarkable thing was how well they communicated. They were polite and paid attention to each other. Everyone had their say. Occasionally there was a follow-up question. There was a lot of respect in that room, and it made for a not only productive, but pleasant, meeting. All the decisions were consensus based. It was a wonderful example of small-town governance.

One issue that came up that evening was the town playground. It needed some work. Once complete, the ground cover of mulch would need to be replaced. A committee member mentioned that since the mulch was for a playground, they should seek out non-dyed mulch. That statement broke me out of my adoration-of-communication hypnotic state. Mulch is dyed? Strange but true. I always thought something called Redwood mulch was composed of ground-up redwoods, when it’s actually red wood mulch; mulch dyed red.

Here’s the issue with dyed wood mulch. It makes sense to think the problem was the dye. That’s not the case. Reds are colored with iron oxide, black with carbon, and other colors utilize vegetable-based dyes. The problem is the wood. Wood mulch consists primarily of recycled wood. That recycled wood can be anything from pallets to pressure-treated lumber. If you’re buying mulch in bulk, ask about the source. If you buy mulch in bags, look for certification from the Mulch and Soil Council, the MSC. If it’s MSC certified it contains no CCA-treated wood; wood treated with chromated copper arsenate. I’m still slack jawed that there’s a need to be careful about what mulch you buy. It’s either a testament to our creativity in repurposing materials, or straight-ahead criminal.