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Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

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Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby SpringCreekFarm » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 08:51:06

I haven't done any research on this so don't flame me for my laziness. I'd rather toss it out to you folks first to see what you think.

I've been working at my rental house recently and have a small pile of drywall wallboard left over. I was wondering if this stuff could be used as a soil amendment. From what I remember reading somewhere, gypsum is used for increasing acidity so I was wondering if I were to use this to prep an area for blueberries if that would be a good idea or not. I'm not sure what else is in wallboard and whether or not it would be useful. The paper clearly isn't a problem.

Any thoughts on using old drywall and how one might physically facilitate this?
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby dunewalker » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 09:01:35

Apparently, some drywall, made in China, uses fly ash from coal plants:
"According to ChineseDrywall.com, compounds such as butanethial, carbonyl sulfide, hydrogen sulfide, mercaptan, methylthio pyridone, sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid, sulfur dioxide and stronium sulfide have been found in Chinese drywall.

So far, the Florida Department of Health has said that levels of toxins are not high enough to pose an “imminent or chronic health problem at this time,” but the U.S. EPA has previously declared many of those compounds to be toxic.

The U.S. government does not regulate chemical ingredients in imported drywall, and investigations into why Chinese drywall may be emitting sulfur and other fumes are ongoing. However, theories suggest fumigants sprayed on the drywall and material inside it could be one reason.

Further, drywall is typically made from gypsum, a type of mineral that is either mined or manufactured from the byproducts of coal-fired power plants. The tainted drywall, on the other hand, may be made from fly ash, a coal byproduct that is less refined and typically used to make concrete."

http://www.sixwise.com/Newsletters/2009 ... rywall.htm
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby Pops » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 09:26:57

It is also good to break up a sticky soil and I've used it with some effect - it's the only good thing about doing drywall!

From what I read about the bad China drywall (for what thats worth) it wasn't the stuff you get at Ho Depot but was only stuff sold wholesale to contractors.

One thing I would advise against is messing with demo drywall - if it was installed before '70-something, it, the mud & tape are all full of asbestos.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby WisJim » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 09:28:26

I have been using scrap drywall for decades with no noticeable ill effects. I have done a little research on the subject, most before the advent of easy internet searches, but I end up using so little drywall on the garden compared to the size of the garden, and I try not to use it anywhere frequently, so I decided not to worry about it. I would guess that I have used the equivalent of half a 4x8 foot sheet or less every year on a half acre garden.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby dunewalker » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 10:06:49

WisJim wrote:I have been using scrap drywall for decades with no noticeable ill effects.


On the question of chemical contamination, I'm not sure this approach is a valid defense of practices. I've been ingesting DDT for more than 60 years with no apparent ill effects, so I might make a similar claim about the dangers of DDT, or lead in gasoline. When in doubt, I think the best measure is to "do without". If one is pursuing "organic practices" in agriculture, using drywall would almost certainly nullify any claims to such, as it's a manufactured product not with organic standards in mind. Any possible additives during the manufacturing process, ie for fireproofing, mold control, etc. haven't been necessarily analyzed for environmental effects, except by complaint.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby aflatoxin » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 10:21:20

I've worked in Drywall plants. Here is what is in most plain ol' drywall:

Gypsum
Glass fiber
Silica
Starch
Latex
Paper

The waterproof and other special types have other materials as well.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby kpeavey » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 10:40:17

It can be done, but it won't get past organic certification.
I'd advise against it if the stuff has been painted.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby pup55 » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 11:16:05

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Nova Scotia gypsum, often referred to as plaister, was a highly sought fertilizer for wheat fields in the United States. It is also used in ameliorating sodic soils

[url]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gypsum [/url]

I want to invent a giant piece of equipment that will basically grind up an entire house at once..... wood, stone, nails, glass, everything.... They have those giant drills that they used to create the English Channel tunnel, and also, the Big Dig....

Around here, they have giant mulchers, that are capable of grinding up entire trees... it should not be too much more complicated than that....

Then.... Detroit, here I come....

I will need some way of disposing of the pulp, though...so I hope this idea works.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby SpringCreekFarm » Mon 15 Jun 2009, 13:47:42

The drywall I had in mind is the leftover scraps from new construction. I took my old drywall from the tearout process to the landfill. I think I'll just make a pile of the drywall out by the compost and let it soften up a bit and then use it at the site I have planned for a blueberry patch.

Dunewalker: Thanks for that tidbit about the chinese drywall. Can't say I'm surprised to hear it's contaminated.

Is anything made in China NOT contaminated with something?

Great information folks. Thanks very much.

PS. Good luck with that machine Pup. :lol:
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby WisJim » Tue 16 Jun 2009, 10:10:32

All of the drywall scraps that I have used on my garden are from new drywall, not water resistant or fire rated type X, and made in the USA. And I agree that I ingest lots of stuff that is bad for me, but I am not worrying about the effects of the drywall.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby Jotapay » Wed 17 Jun 2009, 11:38:06

I would NOT use it in my garden. You will be adding a lot of calcium and sulfuric acid to your soil. The chemical formula for gypsum is something like CaSO4, or something like that. Gypsum is an anhydrite mineral, meaning that it formed in salt flats from drying salt water, typically behind the tidal pools in tropical coastal areas. If you add water, gypsum will quickly dissolve into solution and revert back to its original compounds, calcium and sulfate, and this is what will mix into your soil. Not to mention the paper on drywall has Dioxin in it, which is a carcinogen when ingested in extremely small amounts.

Unless you want to increase the acidity of your soil and add LOTS of calcium, I wouldn't use it. Calcic soils are definitely not what you want for a garden. I'm not saying your soil will turn into caliche (solid calcium layer made from calcium precipitate solution), but calcic soils are NOT considered to be good for growing anything except scrub brush, cedar trees and live oak trees.

Compost is a much better soil amendment. I don't know if you live near any Starbucks, but they bag their used coffee grounds for you to take for your compost. Grocery stores' produce departments may set aside refuse veggies for you to take for compost. This is a much better additive.

Overall, the type of soil you want is some sort of loam or sandy loam. Loam is a more-or-less equal mixture of sand, silt or organic material, and then clay. You typically want clay to be the smallest constituent by volume in the mix.

Figure out what you are lacking in the above mixture, and add that component.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby frankthetank » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 09:11:06

For what i understand, Gypsum will add calcium without raising PH (unlike using lime).

Isn't dioxin also formed in forest fires? I know it was found in ice cream a while back. You can't get away from the stuff.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby Jotapay » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 09:46:11

I don't know why you would want to add calcium to soil, unless you need to make the environment less acidic. Most plants like the soil to be slightly acidic, from my limited knowledge. Typically, you will add organic material and sand if you want to promote plant growth. Sand increases drainage and organic material provides nutrients and retains moisture for roots.

Sulfate will eventually be washed away with rain/ground water flow. Gypsum isn't going to produce eat-your-face-off amounts of acid, but you have to look at a given amount of drywall and figure than ~40% of the volume you see is going to turn into that much sulfate. The only thing that will grow in sulfate/sulfite are anoxic bacteria in volcanic hot springs and at the bottom of the ocean. A sulfate rich environment cannot support most life; virtually all organisms will die in it.

It's not like it's the end of the world, but it isn't doing soil any good at all in regards to the plants that live there.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby smallpoxgirl » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 09:59:51

Jotapay wrote:Not to mention the paper on drywall has Dioxin in it, which is a carcinogen when ingested in extremely small amounts.


Why would the paper on drywall have dioxin? Paper bleaching creates dioxin, though as I understand it that's an issue of contaminating their waste water more so than appreciable amounts in the paper itself. At any rate, the paper on drywall isn't bleached.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby SpringCreekFarm » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 10:33:10

Interesting Jotapay. Thanks for that.

Why do they sell gypsum as a soil amendment?

http://www.usagypsum.com/consumerproducts.aspx
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby gnm » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 10:39:56

I use some myself (not drywall, pelletized gypsum) to help acidify and break up the nasty thick alkaline clay we have... Partially decomposed pine needles also work as well.

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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby Jotapay » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 10:58:00

smallpoxgirl wrote:Why would the paper on drywall have dioxin? Paper bleaching creates dioxin, though as I understand it that's an issue of contaminating their waste water more so than appreciable amounts in the paper itself. At any rate, the paper on drywall isn't bleached.


Doing some brief reading, if the paper isn't bleached, I suppose it would not contain Dioxin but I don't know about that portion of the process. I got my info from my Environmental Engineering class where we learned PPM cancer rates of various compounds. Dioxin is concentrated in the paper plant run off or waste, but it still exists in the paper too. The EPA deemed that it causes cancer in extremely small amounts, enough to place it at the top of the list (lowest PPM in environment). That's pretty much what I know. :)


SpringCreekFarm wrote:Interesting Jotapay. Thanks for that.
Why do they sell gypsum as a soil amendment?
http://www.usagypsum.com/consumerproducts.aspx


Sure thing. I'll have to call that company and ask. I find it interesting. The only reason I can think of is if you want to alter the chemistry of your soil. If you need a more basic pH (less acidity) then lime (calcium) will do it. But if you add enough gypsum to your soil, you will eventually wind up with actual salt flats in your yard. If you've ever driven across Nevada and seen the salt flats there, or else been to a very flat tropical beach with shallow salt water puddles set back from the beach where water is drying, that is the environment you are slowly creating. Most plants typically don't grow well there. But I'm going to find out about that company and why they recommend gypsum.


gnm wrote:I use some myself (not drywall, pelletized gypsum) to help acidify and break up the nasty thick alkaline clay we have... Partially decomposed pine needles also work as well.


The sulfate, once it is dissolved out of the gypsum by rainwater through hydrolysis, will increase acidity in the soil temporarily until it is washed away in solution with the ground water. The calcium that is left behind will decrease acidity, however, and make your soil more basic in the long run. Calcium is not as easy to get out of your soil once it's there.
Last edited by Jotapay on Thu 18 Jun 2009, 16:26:39, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby SpringCreekFarm » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 15:10:13

Jotapay wrote:

SpringCreekFarm wrote:I use some myself (not drywall, pelletized gypsum) to help acidify and break up the nasty thick alkaline clay we have... Partially decomposed pine needles also work as well.


snip........... The calcium that is left behind will decrease acidity, however, and make your soil more basic in the long run. Calcium is not as easy to get out of your soil once it's there.


Just for accuracy's sake, GNM made that last quote not me...

What is so bad about having some extra calcium in your soil? A shortage of calcium is noted as a reason for blossom end rot in tomatoes. Of course this does not mean one should over do it and replace the soil with gypsum or something dumb like that.

I was just wondering if anyone used left over new drywall in their soil instead of just throwing it away.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby Jotapay » Thu 18 Jun 2009, 17:13:56

Woops, I didn't finish editing the post when I patched it all together. Fixed.

Some extra calcium? Probably not much harm at all. I was just saying I wouldn't add it myself, that's all.

My understand of chemistry, soil and plants is that you want to add the correct nutrients and the correct aggregate material for a typical yard and the plants in it. This may be fine grained or more coarsely grained material, depending on your drainage needs. For me and my yard, limestone under the top soil works well for my live oak trees. In my raised beds for veggies, I need fine-grained sand, silt and organic material. Luckily my soil drainage is excellent everywhere.

I have almost no clay around me. If I did have clay in the yard, I would actually consider adding some gypsum or preferably sand, only because anything is better than clay.

I'm not a soil scientist but I still learned a lot of general soil and environmental info in my geology classes. Everything I learned that made plants grow well never included calcium. Also, calcic environments are not the best for gardening or farming, which is what we usually focus on in this forum.
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Re: Using Scrap Drywall as a Soil Amendment`

Unread postby rattleshirt » Sun 21 Jun 2009, 14:17:21

Jotapay- Calcium is one of the big 12 or so important nutrients for plant growth. If you live out West in an area with calcic soil you need to build up organic matter. If you live on heavy clay like I do then adding gypsum will help to break it up. Also if you have high sodium levels then gypsum will help remove some of it.
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