I (don’t) believe in miracles

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We’ve decided to have a go at growing some potatoes at home, and so the other week a trip to a garden centre was required in order to get some compost. Two large weighty bags were duly wheeled back to the car, at which point I noticed that printed in the top-left hand corner of each bag was the following declaration:


Although the bags haven’t been opened yet, I’m pretty sure that neither of them contains a perfect vacuum… and that being the case, I think there may be one or two chemicals inside. I won’t say which company made the compost, but if you’re curious, you may want to look again at the title of this post.

Anyway, here was my chance to post what would surely be an amusing conversation between myself and the customer service hotline at said company. So, I gave them a quick call, left my details and waited for them to phone me back… which they did.

The very helpful and polite gentleman on the other end of the phone answered my first question of, ‘So, what exactly are the ingredients in [brand name of compost]?’ with a comprehensive list of very ‘organicky’ sounding things, such as bark, leaf mulch, horse manure, etc… I then asked if any of these ingredients contained any ‘chemicals’ and it was at this point that my childish hopes of being incredibly sarcastic to some poor unsuspecting soul were shattered.

“Oh, everything contains chemicals,” came the response, “me, you, compost, everything. What it should say is ‘no synthetic chemicals’ – but our marketing department like it to say ‘100% chemical free’, but that’s their problem.” (He may not have used these exact words, but they were similar).

I was a little disappointed at this point – no fun for me pointing out that even water is a chemical – but at least it did make me think that there is some hope for the human race… and besides, the chemically-aware gentleman went on to give me some great potato-growing advice!


Stuart Cantrill (Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry)

Stu Cantrill

Chief Editor, Nature Chemistry, Springer Nature