Green Pest Control

One truth about Green marketing is that everyone has their own ideas on just what constitutes “green”, and as this issue gained steam it became clear that it was a wholly unregulated area. People could pretty much make up their own definition of what green meant to them and to their products or services. The homeowner might hire a company that promises to install green products or do business in a green manner, and the result could be that the homeowner and that business have widely differing views on what will occur. We all might agree that pursuing green services and products is an effort to minimize negative impacts on the environment and to increase safety for people and animals. This is certainly a goal worth going for, and Green Pest Management (GPM) attempts to do just this, while at the same time continuing to provide the necessary pest management programs that clearly benefit our homes, our food supply, and our health.  

Within the pest management industry there is a definition of what “Green Pest Management” entails, and it is less about the pesticides than it is about the overall manner in which a company runs its business. Numerous experts and consultants from government agencies, universities, and pest control industry leadership have stated at industry events that GPM “is not about pesticides”, although some groups of pest control chemicals may fit into a GPM program better than others. But, the pest control company that states it is a Green Company should also be concerned with energy conservation in the office, should have a recycling and efficient waste management program in place, should have efficient vehicle routing to reduce fuel usage, and should be making every possible effort to reduce environmental pollution. GPM should stress non-chemical steps in the management of a pest problem as critical aspects of the process. Doing so is referred to as “integrated” pest management, and we will discuss this more in a moment.  

However, many homeowners may think in terms only of using “green pesticides”, and in fact many pest control technicians may also hold this view, and this is where education and training will be helpful. It also is important for the pest control technician and the customer to discuss this so that both are in agreement as to what the customer wants and what the technician will provide. The homeowner may desire that only natural pesticides be used, or perhaps even no pesticides at all, and these options are possible but need to be communicated ahead of time. It’s also important that homeowners understand what a “pesticide” is, as this includes repellents, biological materials, pheromones in traps, growth regulators, and many other materials used to kill, repel, prevent, or otherwise mitigate any pest. Even cleaning products are, in many states, regulated as pesticides, and rightly so, since their purpose is to kill bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that may cause disease. The EPA provides a definition of what constitutes a “pesticide”, and these kinds of products are included in that definition.  

A term that has been in use in the professional industry for decades is “Integrated Pest Management”, or IPM, and GPM and IPM have some strong similarities. With respect to the actual performance of eliminating the pest they are one and the same. The difference is as discussed earlier, whereby the company claiming to do Green Pest Management also should be addressing all those issues of energy and fuel conservation, recycling, etc. The company that does a good job of eliminating the pest in a responsible manner, but which dumps waste materials improperly, is not a green company. Properly done, integrated pest management begins with an inspection to identify the presence of the pest, identifies exactly what that pest is, does not use chemicals unless the pest is present, and then identifies what conditions are present that are encouraging and supporting that pest. A diligent effort then is made to eliminate those contributing conditions, to block access to the structure with good exclusion work, and to correct any sanitation issues. Once all of these aspects are completed an application of a registered pesticide may also be necessary to remove any remaining pests.  

This is where the homeowner or business manager can become involved, and in the process can help to minimize the need for pesticides to control a pest problem. Since all pest animals, insects in particular, need to find food, water, and shelter on the property, eliminating these where possible will be an important step in eliminating the pest. Much of the food may be tied to poor sanitation, resulting in flies, cockroaches, ants, and even rodents. Water should be removed where it is not needed, such as plugged rain gutters, catch pans under potted plants, drip pans under appliances, or leaks from plumbing. These water resources encourage the presence of mosquitoes, cockroaches, rodents, and many insects that look for moisture and fungus such as book lice, springtails, and fungus gnats.  

Clutter that provides harborage to rodents, snakes, spiders, silverfish, cockroaches, and many other pests might be cardboard boxes in the garage or storage areas, piles of old magazines or papers, improperly stacked wood piles and lumber, paper bags, cans and other containers, and many other materials that become piled up or saved when they can be eliminated. Around the exterior of the home there should be a clear area of 2 feet, where you remove vegetation, mulch, firewood, and other materials. Instead, place a layer of decorative crushed rock or gravel or just leave a strip of bare dirt to discourage insects, rodents, and snakes from hiding so close to the structure. The more insects you eliminate the less the reason for other animals, including spiders, to be present to prey on them. While thick layers of mulch provide good water retention for the soil and weed control by smothering weed growth, they also can encourage many kinds of insects. The dark, damp habitat under the mulch is exactly what many nocturnal insects look for during the daytime. A compromise must be made where the mulch can be used, but managed to discourage insects as much as possible.  

In the definition of Green Pest Management used by the professional pest management industries, insecticides and other pesticides may play a role. Ideally, non-chemical control methods will be emphasized and used as the first line of attack. These include traps, vacuums, steam or freezing, and exclusion to prevent pests from entering your home. Modifying the habitat to take away insect harborage will prevent more insects from living on your property. Sanitation takes away their food and water resources. By performing these important steps you will enjoy a longer relief from pests with minimal use of insecticides.  

Even with all of these tools, along with your cooperation in removing habitat and food resources, it may be most appropriate to also discreetly apply pesticides. This is something you should discuss in advance with your licensed pest control technician, so that you both are in agreement about the kinds of materials that will be used on your property. Green Pest Management is an excellent approach to dealing with harmful or nuisance pests. Exactly how this will be done on your property is up to you, and discussing it with the pest management professional is appropriate and helpful to him.