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Environment and Outdoors

Maine Hardware Stores Lauded for Dropping Synthetic Pesticides, Fertilizers

Tom Porter
Organic lawn and garden care products on the shelf at Eldredge Lumber & Hardware.

YORK, Maine — A chain of southern Maine hardware stores is being recognized by environmental groups Thursday for its decision to sell only organic garden products.

Eldredge Lumber & Hardware, which operates stores in Kittery, York and Portland, no longer sells any pesticides or weed-killer products containing synthetic chemicals. It's a trend which advocates hope will be copied elsewhere.

Eldredge Lumber & Hardware decided to make a change in its product line a while back.

"We made a decision two years ago to go away from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers toward a more organic approach," says company president Scott Eldredge.

He says that last year he stopped selling a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids, which have come under scrutiny because of their effect on the environment. Among other things, they've been linked to a decline in the nation's honeybee population.

And earlier this year, Eldredge stopped selling Roundup, a popular herbicide containing the chemical glyphosate, which the World Health Organization describes as "probably carcinogenic." Industry groups reacted strongly to this assessment, accusing the study of cherry picking its data.

Nevertheless, these products are no longer to be found at Eldredge Lumber & Hardware, and Eldredge says consumers seem to approve of the organic alternatives: Sales in the lawn and gardening department are up over 30 percent in the last year, he says.

Credit Tom Porter
Tom Porter
Scott Eldredge

"So I couldn't be happier as a businessman, as a person that's pursuing the organic approach," Eldredge says.

"Eldredge Lumber & Hardware is proof of what can be done with vision and forward-thinking," says Brian Jordan with the Organic Consumers Association, one of two nonprofits that gathered at Eldredge's York store Thursday morning to pay tribute to the company. "Here's the bottom line: they took on an approach that challenged convention about how lawn care is done and what products can and should be sold and it works."

And Andy Jones of the New England-based Toxic Action Center says it's important to understand the scope of the issue.

"We have over 40 million acres of turf grass growing in this country," he says. "So the practices that we use to take care of that grass, are very important."

Credit Tom Porter / MPBN
Andy Jones (from left), John Bochert, Brian Jordan and Scott Eldredge.

Jones says Eldredge Lumber is an example of a store that has moved to safer, healthier methods of lawn care.

"And I want to see that happen all over the state," he says.

Jones says several major retailers, including Lowes and Walmart, have made commitments to move away from harmful pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids. But none of them has gone as far as Eldredge.