Phosphorus-free lawn food

How we are meeting local needs through a national initiative.

Phosphorus is an essential building block for plants. From city green spaces, to backyard gardens and large agricultural areas, phosphorus helps plants develop strong and healthy roots.

And yet, excess phosphorus in waterways has proven to be a big contributor to an all-too-common form of water pollution–harmful algal blooms. This major environmental issue impacts thousands of waterbodies across America. Some blooms turn toxic, while others simply deplete the water of oxygen, preventing anything else from growing.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says these blooms “can produce extremely dangerous toxins that can sicken or kill people and animals, create dead zones in the water, raise treatment costs for drinking water and hurt industries that depend on clean water.”

So it’s not hard to understand that from declines in tourism to clean up efforts, algal blooms cost the American economy an estimated $2.2 billion a year. And currently, there is no solution to this problem.

The largest identifiable sources of phosphorus in our waterways come from agricultural use, wastewater treatment systems and leaking home sewer systems. Do-it-yourself lawn and garden activity accounts for less than 2 percent of fertilizer applied in the U.S., not nearly enough to create the circumstances necessary for harmful algal blooms to develop.

That said, we wanted to eliminate any possibility that our products were contributing to this environmental crisis. To that end, in 2003 we announced plans to reduce our use of phosphorus in our lawn fertilizer products by half. But we didn’t stop there. We continued to evaluate our fertilizer formulations, exploring ways to reduce our use of phosphorus even further.

In 2011, we announced we would completely remove phosphorus from our lawn maintenance fertilizers, including Scotts® Turf Builder®, the best-selling lawn fertilizer in the United States. Only fertilizers used for new lawns continue to use phosphorus as it is necessary for these new plants to develop a proper root structure.

These decisions resulted in at least 10,000 metric tons of phosphorus being eliminated from the environment annually. It was an important step to help our consumers feel confident that when using Scotts® products, they are not contributing to local algae blooms.

Still, today more than 10 million metric tons of excess phosphorus annually flow into fresh water from other sources. Demonstrating our ongoing commitment to this issue, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation created partnerships with environmental groups across the United States that are dedicated to protecting fresh water in key regions and uniting citizens, scientists and communities in finding a lasting solution for excess phosphorus.

As a leader on this issue, we can spur future innovations that will address the overall nutrient pollution issue. The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation is also the presenting sponsor of the $10 million international George Barley Water Prize, the largest award of its kind, which is focused on finding a solution to this major problem.