Humankind's battle against pests dates to a time when pretty much everything in civilized life had an earth-friendly bent. Toxic chemicals weren't needed to simply step on a scurrying cockroach.
So it's a neat bit of poetic pest justice that, in our tech-obsessed 21st century, some of our most advanced, streamlined bug-fighting strategies also rank as the most environmentally sound. And it also sounds smart to us, because the very thought of spraying poisons around is a little scary — if it's killing bugs, can you really be sure it's not killing you? In other words, you don't have to kill the planet just to kill some bugs.
Since so many of us are constantly on the hunt for consumer bargains that nurture our precious resources — and above all, do no harm — we've put together some suggestions for getting rid of pests in a way that saves money and is safe for all humans.
What about an effective bug treatment that you can spray on your face as an exfoliant or just chug down so your skin gets smooth? Sounds like a bargain two-fer to us.
Chicago exterminator Rick Moskovitz, who's been in business since 1979, sells enzyme-based products, which cause bugs to molt prematurely. These contain a mixture of water, yeast and acetic acid — also known as vinegar. It's so safe, Moskovitz sprays it on his face — and could even drink it without it consequence. "It will actually make your skin softer, too," Moskovitz says. "It works on a bug's exoskeleton, which is why it will take off dead human skin as well."
Moskowitz's company also sells a number of other products through Plus Natural Solutions, an online store that will ship you a two-bottle package of its Enzymatic Cleaner and Minimum-Risk Pesticide Concentrates for $60 plus shipping and tax.
That's enough to cover eight home treatments total, plenty of bug-killing power.
Moskowitz also does in-home treatments through his company, A-Plus Pest Control, and switched to an all-green enzyme approach about six years ago. His biggest endorsers include Chicago-area restaurants and food warehouses.
He also worked one of the Windy City's big outdoor convert sheds, the Charter One Pavilion. "We sprayed down the stands and the seats, and they didn't have any mosquitoes or spiders the whole summer," Moskovitz says. "It's a natural repellent; it keeps things away."
Assuming you want to try this for yourself, Moskovitz will sell you a 4-oz. bottle of concentrated cedar oil, enough to make two gallons of bug spray, for $15. "If it gets on [an insect's] body, it drives them crazy and will kill them," he says. "Plus we have a beautiful testimonial from LiveNation [promoters for the Charter One Pavilion] that the cedar oil not only works, but it smells good, too."
If you're interested in finding an exterminator like this in your area, you can check to see if a company has earned a GreenPro certification from the National Pest Management Association in Washington, D.C.
"It's not for every company; it's very high-end," says NPMA vice president Bob Rosenberg. "It's a really tough green program, and so far, we have about 120 companies that have been through it." That is 120 out of the 18,500 companies in the pest business, which generates $6.5 billion in annual gross revenue.
GreenPro graduates employ a three-step process in which chemical sprays aren't even brought out until step three. First, they'll seal cracks and fix leaky faucets. If that doesn't work, they use tamper-resistant bait traps. Only if those options fail will GreenPro members use safe chemicals, and in limited amounts. (Step four involves judicious use of non-green chemicals.)
So are pest managers today more eco-friendly than a decade ago — even the non-green ones? "By a factor of 100," Rosenberg says. "Pest management used to be done by a technician who would come into the house with a big can and spray. That's not how it's done at all today. The applications are much less toxic, much more precise and targeted."
But with green pest control, "You need someone well-trained and skilled in insect biology," Rosenberg adds. "You can go down to Home Depot and buy a pest control product, but that isn't necessarily very green. It requires more skill than just spraying."
Aside from these products, homemade remedies do exist for bugs such as ants. Dried grains such as grits, oatmeal and cornmeal swell when they come in contact with water, exploding once the grains hit an ant's stomach. This costs only pennies, and with mice infestations, electric traps can now take the place of poisonous bait.
Victor makes some fairly sophisticated models that you can buy at hardware stores or online at places such as Amazon.com. These run the gamut from the the Victor Electronic Mouse Trap ($15.49) that kills a mouse in a humane 10-second shock to the menacing-looking M260 Multi-Kill Electronic Mouse Trap ($95). This hearse-black, high-voltage House of Mouse Death can kill up to 10 rodents at once and includes — insert Peter Lorre laugh here — a "Shock N' Drop Chamber" where dead rodents get deposited into a collection drawer.
As for the business of going after bugs the green way, Moskovitz has a caveat for consumers in a rush to get safe products for the sake of their families, kids and pets: "There's a lot of 'greenwashing' right now, a lot of people saying they're green. It's very good marketing, but it has to work—and it has to be legal."
Or you might say, Don't let those green charlatans squash you like a bug.
Photo credit: GardenMandy.com