Everything the product does is good for people and the environment. Unfortunately, the same does not appear to be true of the way it is made. If the company provided further explanation of its sustainability oriented goals and practices as well as elaborating on the process used to make the crushed rock, it would deserve a different appraisal. It is plausible that the rock dust is a byproduct after all, but the website should provide greater clarity about how it is made so consumers can know more about what they are supporting with their purchase. People should be gardening with rock dust, but perhaps from a different company. Sourcing as locally as possible is the most environmentally friendly option because rock is heavy, which means more emissions from its transport. No company that manufactures rock dust should be processing the rock itself when so much is already deposited at quarries as a byproduct. This product deserves credit for its potential to help people farm more sustainably, but it is not nearly as sustainable as it could be.
Cascade Minerals’ soil booster is made primarily of volcanic basalt mined from central Oregon. A high proportion of volcanic basalt is responsible for the exceptionally fertile soil found around volcanoes. Basalt is the main mineral component in soils around the world. Basalt weathers relatively quickly. It is far more soluble than quartz or granite (which contains quartz), for example. The nutrients from crushed basalt are more readily available to plants than they would be from a less soluble mineral. This not only leads to more immediate results such as increased plant vigor and biomass, but also sequesters CO2 more quickly because increased solubility means faster chemical weathering. The process of chemical weathering is a natural reaction that takes place when a mineral reacts with water or atmospheric gasses. The form of weathering by which basalt stores carbon is called carbonation. Carbon dioxide dissolved in falling rain becomes carbonic acid. This dissolves basalt, and the reaction forms carbonates. If all of the world’s farmland was amended with basalt rock dust, it would cause an emissions reduction of 0.5-2 gigatons out of global emissions of around 35 gigatons. This is nowhere near the necessary reduction in emissions, but even at the lower end it would be a meaningful contribution.
Rock dust is usually a byproduct, which suggests a degree of sustainability because it repurposes what would otherwise be industrial waste. Cascade Minerals does not make it clear whether their rock dust is a byproduct. The product’s composition is decently sustainable overall, however. Increased agricultural yields, long term CO2 sequestration, and reversing the process of soil depletion are all desireable outcomes from a sustaibility oriented perspective. The package is part of the product as well, and Cascade could easily make its product more sustainable by choosing not to use plastic in its packaging. There are alternatives that are biodegradeable, made from renewable resources, and easier to recycle such as burlap, hemp, paper, or cardboard.
According to the Cascade Minerals website, their soil booster is milled in central Oregon. Rock dust is a byproduct of quarrying, so it seems wasteful for the company to process basalt when deposits already exist from quarrying activity. It is worth noting that the greenhouse gas emissions from quarrying are primarily from cement production. Energy used to process stones into rock dust and transport them is relatively negligible in terms of emissions. Quarrying has another environmental consequence, however. Land degredation as a result of quarrying is a serious issue. Stripping the top layers of soil is a part of the quarrying process. Transforming habitat into quarries can severely reduce biodiversity. It causes noise and water pollution as well as making the area where it occurs inhospitable to any wildlife that formerly occupied the site by removing sources of food and even making the area intraversable. If Cascade Minerals is actually quarrying what would usually be a byproduct as appears to be the case based on what their website says, they are making it in a less sustainable way than they would if they simply followed common practice.
There is very little information available about the company itself on its website. The FAQ and blog are entirely devoted to the product. Without much information on the company, it is unclear whether workers are earning a living wage or what the company’s goals otherwise are for working toward social, environmental, and economic justice. As mentioned before, the company explains its product well, however. This is important because rock dust really does have the potential to help people farm more sustainably by sequestering carbon and providing nutrients that fertilizer does not supply. Rock dust is an important soil amendment to use in organic gardening. By making and promoting this product, the company is helping people farm sustainably. While the product is usually sustainable because it is the byproduct of another industry, the company has a long way to go in terms of transparency. Organic farmers and gardeners deserve to know whether the product they are purchasing is ethical throughout the supply chain.