Fighting dandelions with a brush and hot water

Symposium proves that cities and municipalities can often do without pesticides

Münster town hall with wildflowers in the foregroundClick to enlarge
Pleasing to bees and to the eye: Wildflowers edge out unwanted weeds in Münster.
Source: Stadt Münster

Greener cities are not only prettier, they also make the air healthier and have a better climate. But when tall grass at a pedestrian crossing hides waiting children, communities must take action – and all too often they resort to pesticides in the fight against nature. However, there are ways to avoid chemicals, namely with machines that use hot water to kill off overground plant parts and top-layer roots. Another simple method is to use brushes that remove the visible plant parts. Many municipalities in Germany have been pesticide-free for a long time and shared their experience with roughly 60 participants from municipalities, nature conservation associations, public authorities, and party representatives at a symposium held at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).

"Municipalities can already go entirely without pesticides without breaching any of their liability for maintenance", said the patron of the symposium, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry Ms Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter (SPD). The presentations and talks at the symposium concurred. "Local governments can lead by example in environmentally and nature-friendly land management", continued Ms Schwarzelühr-Sutter. Symposium participants from different sectors of local government also discussed which methods of pesticide-free turf care are effective and economical.

Another agenda topic was how municipalities, in addition to doing without herbicides in weed control, can also work without pesticides when providing other public services. "Rodents and pest insects can be controlled without chemicals. Traps, for example, are quite promising when it comes to rat and mice control", said President Maria Krautzberger of the Federal Environment Agency.

Talks by representatives from pesticide-free municipalities like Luxembourg told participants about their experience in chemical-free land management. The positive effects in terms of ecology and quality of life were outlined but also the challenges which local governments face if they do not use pesticides. "If green areas are designed with turf pavers and a diverse mix of perennial plants, it makes the use of pesticides unnecessary from the very start and it is very decorative, too," said Maria Krautzberger at the conclusion of the symposium. Participants gained insight into the techniques and machinery used in pesticide-free management of green areas through on-site demonstrations. Brush techniques and hot water and foam procedures were shown.

If a municipality wants to do without using pesticides, there are basically three things to keep in mind: it requires careful land use planning, the use of alternative weed control methods and tolerance of grass and wildflowers. Greener cities have a number of advantages: they cool the air on hot days, filter out pollutants, traffic noise is dampened and flooding and erosion are reduced. Undesirable growth on the other hand can be prevented by good design of pathways and open areas.

For land areas that must be kept entirely free of growth, non-toxic alternatives are available. Hot water-operated machines use the temperatures to kill off the parts of plants that are above ground and exposed roots. Brushes are also used to mechanically remove plant growth above ground.

Further information

Symposium papers, presentations and workshop results can be accessed by clicking on the event link listed under 'Links'.

Umweltbundesamt Headquarters

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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 pesticides  weeds  pest plants  weed control  biological weed control