My 'photodegradable' plastic mulch just killed two snakes
Pete Myers

My 'photodegradable' plastic mulch just killed two snakes

I've always loved snakes. They come and go from my office. So I was horrified to see two caught up in 'photodegradable' plastic netting, dead.

CROZET, Virginia – I didn't know what to do with this. Fortunately the Facebook community was listening.


As a kid I had pet snakes. I have always loved them. Now, in my log cabin office snugged up against the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, black rat snakes live not as pets but as co-residents, eating resident mice. They come and go. Less welcome was the copperhead I caught and moved from the entrance door earlier last week. They all are part of the earth's biodiversity and play roles in making the earth inhabitable for all, including humans.

Last week, after moving the copperhead, I discovered that a weed control tool I purchased and laid out in my garden called a "Straw Blanket," from Pennington Lawn and Garden Care Products, indiscriminately kills snakes. They get tangled in the "photodegradable plastic" mesh that holds the straw together and that is supposed to degrade over time in sunlight. Two docile, friendly corn snakes were caught in the mesh together, and died. Maybe some of you would like to surround your house with it because you are afraid of snakes. Perhaps Pennington should advertise this feature: #WeKillSnakes. I will spare you photos of the dead snakes.

A consumer myth

Biodegradable is one of the great myths of the consumer society.

I was – and am – horrified. Biodiversity (including snakes) is having a really tough time these days (see the recent UN report). And the worse it gets for other parts of the animal/plant kingdom, the more vulnerable we are for a collapse of civilization. If you think this is an exaggeration, you don't know the relevant scientific literature.

I put this tale of shock and woe on Facebook. Pennington Lawn and Garden, I said, needs to stop selling this product, quickly. I tagged Charlottesville Southern States Cooperative, where I bought the product.

And here's where the story takes an unexpected turn for the better:

I went back to Charlottesville Southern States Cooperative, to return my unused Straw Blanket rolls and to tell them that they were selling a defective product that killed snakes. I didn't want a refund, I told the clerk, but I hoped the store would consider putting a warning sign on the sales floor. She smiled at me. "We saw your post and already took all of them off the floor."

Thank you Charlottesville Southern States Cooperative! I hope you also encourage Pennington Lawn and Garden to do the same.

Become a donor
Today's top news

Chemicals linked to birth defects are being dumped in Pittsburgh’s rivers: Report

Chemicals linked to cancer and developmental harm are also released in large quantities into the city’s three rivers.

From our newsroom

Chemical recycling grows — along with concerns about its environmental impacts

Industry says chemical recycling could solve the plastic waste crisis, but environmental advocates and some lawmakers are skeptical.

Universities are failing us

Our educational systems are failing to prepare people for existential environmental threats

Peter Dykstra: The good news that gets buried by the bad

On the environment beat, maybe it’s right that the bad news dominates. But the good news is out there, too.

LISTEN: Ashley Gripper on growing food to fight systemic oppression

“They never felt more resilient, more confident, more grounded in terms of their mental health, than they did when they were growing food.”

Peter Dykstra: Does climate action need a king?

Tradition could silence Charles III’s passionate voice on climate change. But should it?