Ministry of Controversy, Taking Your Gardening Dollar

How to Get Sued by Scotts Miracle-Gro

Terracycleowner(Photo: How to succeed in the worm poop business: Find a CEO that looks like John Cusack)

I was once hired to write a brochure for a non-profit that wanted to promote organic gardening.  It was a simple enough job, but after I turned it in, the agency’s lawyers got hold of it and removed any reference to "toxic" or "harmful" chemicals.  They were afraid of getting sued by the manufacturers of those products.  We couldn’t even say that organic products were "less harmful" or "safer."  I don’t remember what language we settled on–"environmentally-friendly," maybe?  But now I wonder just how many groups, agencies, manufacturers of organic products, garden centers, etc. have to watch how they talk about those chemicals the big boys make for fear of a lawsuit.  Is it getting chilly in here?

The point is that here is a company–Scotts–that has moved into the organics market by buying organic fertilizer and soil company Whitney Farms and by rolling out its own line of products called Organic Choice. Why would a company that is selling organic products sue another manufacturer of organic products for saying organic is better than synthetic?  Is it possible that Scotts sees organic as just that–a choice–or perhaps a marketing niche–but not actually a better way to garden?  One wonders.

This also reminded me of a very interesting post on a blog called The Good Human (this link may or may not work but here goes) about two manufacturers of environmentally-friendly cleaning products. The post was titled "Method vs. Seventh Generation:  Let the Battle Begin!"  Representatives of both companies jumped on the blog to say that the debate should not be about Method vs. Seventh Generation, but should be about Method and Seventh Generation against the guys making the toxic products.  These kind of "geek values" are more about collaboration and transformation, and less about hauling your competitor into court. (yeah, I know, we can all find examples of geeks hauling their competitors into court.  Work with me here. We’re talking about values.)

So Scotts has blundered into the organics market and seems to be eager to take down its competition just as TerraCycle starts to make inroads into mainstream markets like Home Depot and Canada’s WalMart.

Lighten up, Scotts. Go pick on somebody your own size. 

Visit Sued by Scotts for updates and instructions on how to communicate your displeasure to Scotts, or how to buy Terracycle products or donate to their legal defense fund. And if you want to see TerraCycle at work, here it is:

Posted by on May 3, 2007 at 5:48 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy, Taking Your Gardening Dollar.
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27 responses to “How to Get Sued by Scotts Miracle-Gro”

  1. layanee says:

    Well, maybe Scotts is doing this company a big favor. I had never heard of Terracycle before and now I am going to go to Wal-Mart and buy me some liquid Worm Poop! Also, a note on the packaging…really bad! Cartoonish, no nutrient value visible. The only positive I see is the color and I am not sure that yellow is patented, is it? I think I will go ahead with my plans to make my own red wiggly compost bin for the kitchen cupboard, then I won’t have to buy any of these products thus saving the world from more debris.

  2. OUTRAGEOUS! UNBELIEVABLE! While I LIKE business and find it interesting, there is no question that some big businesses are total villains. The crazy thing is that the villains always get it in the end. What are those morons at Scott’s THINKING? They are going to turn TerraCycle into a cause and torpedo their own organic line.

    This reminds of me of that Monsanto case 8 or 10 years ago when Monsanto tried to keep milk producers that didn’t use its bovine growth hormone from being able to tell consumers that on the packaging. Monsanto claimed to be injured by the mere suggestion that there was something wrong with hormones to make cows milkable umpteen times a day.

    Of course, Monsanto’s deep-dyed stupidity helped to mobilize the world against GMOs and other such biotech innovations and earned it the nickname “Mon-Satan.” One can only hope that Scott’s suffers similarly for its anti-consumer, anti-environmental, anti-competitive foolishness.

  3. In this story of David vs. Goliath , lets hope the virtuous enviromentalist wins.

    I hope Scotts receives a tremendous amount of bad publicity for its Microsoft business ways and realizes that this is one small battle that is not worth the negative impact to wage.

    Then lets hope that Terrracycle can put it’s resources into hiring a better graphics and advertising firm.
    The graphics and labeling is very poorly done .
    The font hails back to the 1950’s as does the graphics which does not equate with the 21st century mindset of a trusted eco product.

    Unfortunately many judge a book by its cover and this cover sucks.
    Dude get yourself some good graphics and that may even partially assist in getting Scotts off your back.

    Michelle

  4. Dawn says:

    Okay, now I’m going to go buy some TerraCycle as well. Not sure why big business stomps on the little guy so often. It stinks almost as badly as synthetic fertilizer.

    Regards,
    Dawn

  5. Colleen says:

    This is just asinine. It must be very, very hard for Scotts to see gardeners, and businesses like Terracycle, shunning the very thing that has been putting money in their wallets and fuel in their jets. Poor, poor billionaires….

    This reminds me of something I tell my two and three year olds all the time. It usually comes up when one is tattling on the other. At least ten times a day, I say “don’t worry about what she’s doing. worry about what you’re doing.” Maybe Scott’s should think of doing the same.

  6. I noticed TerraCycle for the first time the other day at Home Depot. It jumped out at me, not because I mistook it for MiracleGro (which I wasn’t looking for) but because I’d heard of the lawsuit. Suddenly, I was interested in examining TerraCycle’s products.

    So, there you go, Scotts. You piqued my interest in a competing product.

    I suggest everyone who think Scotts is being a jerk, write them a letter (not email). Tell them you’re disgusted with their tactics and that, as a result, that you decided to make it publicly known that you are boycotting them. Then include the link to your blog.

  7. eve says:

    it’s sad, but our legal system actually encourages business entities to protect their markets as aggressively as possible. it isn’t only gardening products that are affected by this, it’s music and news and everything under the sun. why isn’t napster a viable business model, isn’t sharing good?it is time for the market itself to drive the type of competition that will make progress possible.

  8. Colleen says:

    I love that, MSS. I’m totally going to do that.

    I was thinking about this a while ago, actually about the whole issue of their packaging. I LIKE the label. It looks like a product that has been put out off of the beaten path, far, far away from Madison Ave. ideals…which it is. And, it is cartoonish, but, really, how else would you handle a product made of worm poop?

    I’m not a designer, obviously, just my .02 as a consumer.

  9. angela says:

    Recycling soda bottles is pretty genius from a marketing perspective because it assuages our collective guilt about all the unbiodegradable, carcinogenic plastic garbage we’re producing every time we down a soda. But…

    Aren’t they using new hose-end sprayers on these recycled bottles, thus creating more garbage? And doesn’t every bottle get a new, custom shrink-wrapped plastic sheath?

    I’m all for worm poop and “pee” and enjoy using the solids and liquids from my Can-O-Worms, but why did OMRI (http://www.omri.org/index.html) give TerraCycle products an R rating, meaning they’re only approved for organic use with restrictions?

    Makes me wonder what’s in this stuff besides worm tea. I can’t find an indredients list on their website and the Science page (http://www.terracycle.net/ecocomplex.htm) is weak. It’s not at all quantitative and I couldn’t find a single scientist backing their bold claims with numbers.

    Let’s see the ingredients and an explanation for the R rating and some scientific data backing up claims of superior performance over traditional fertilizers.

    I want to like this product, but I’m not sold yet. From a cost and waste perspective, you’d be better off making your own worm tea and castings.

  10. tai haku says:

    I’m afraid I have a similar question to Angela which is why TerraCycle claims that its products outperform the “leading synthetic fertilizer,” If this is accurate and there is science to back it up all hail terracycle and to hell with Scotts but otherwise I can see why Scotts would be going after them.

    On the topic of the packaging my understanding is the spray tops are a rag-tag bunch of cheap acquisitions of end of run waste for larger spray consumers like window sprays.

    Here’s hoping terracycle are and remain in the right.

  11. Eliz says:

    We need Jeff Gilman to test this stuff.

    As for the packaging though, I must say that I’ve never seen any garden product packaging that would get high marks for design.

    The best of it barely achieves “blah” status.” It all pretty much sucks, design-wise. At least this is garish. That’s something.

  12. Andrea says:

    This is completely outrageous and just sad. I always knew Scott’s was evil – this just proves it.

  13. angela says:

    “TerraCycle is now worth $4.2 million.”– DailyPrincetonian.com, 2004

    Three years ago, they were worth 4.2 million. Small in comparison to Scotts, but hardly a “tiny” company.

    “Szaky said, is that it can “make money at both ends.” Businesses such as feed lots and paper factories pay TerraCycle to pick up their trash, so that they can avoid paying larger landfill fees. TerraCycle then composts this trash with the assistance of worms, whose excrement is purified to produce the plant food.” — DailyPrincetonian.com

    Is the use of feedlot and paper factory garbage the reason why TerraCycle was given an R rating by OMRI? Yes? No? Please disclose this information, TerraCycle.

    The organic use restrictions bring up several questions–

    What are the worms being fed? Is their diet vegetarian? Are there any potential toxins in their feed, such as heavy metals or animal pathogens?

    How is their excrement being “purified”?

    What else is in the fertilizer besides “purified worm poop”? What are the inert ingredients?

    “Albert Zakes, who manages media relations at TerraCycle, added that Scotts also sued TerraCycle because it would not provide Scotts with copies of scientific product tests of the two companies’ products, which were conducted at the Rutgers University EcoComplex. They sued us because we refused to give up testing that we have done comparing our product to others,” Zakes said. “Who in the world would want to give such proprietary information to your biggest competitor?”– DailyPrincetonian.com

    Who in the world would want to claim superior performance over a competing product without backing it up with scientific evidence?

    If we are going to use this fertilizer in our gardens, we deserve to know what’s in it and in which ways it is measurably superior to other fertilizers. And if you’re calling it “organic”, it should be able to earn a green light from OMRI.

  14. Hopefully the good that can come out of this is to put Terracycle on more people’s radar. I first bought the product based on the business model alone and I wish Tom Szaky success and fortune beyond his wildest dreams – whether or not he can scientifically prove worm poo is better than bright blue goo! (betcha he can!)

  15. angela says:

    I swore off the blue goo years ago… I’m just not convinced TerraCycle is “the most effective, convenient, affordable plant food you can buy”. (TerraCycle CEO Tom Szaky)

    Nor do I take it on blind faith that TerraCycle “outgrows synthetic fertilizers.”

    Jeeze, I don’t even believe this stuff is “organic and extremely eco-friendly.” Neither does the Organic Materials Review Institute, apparently.

    This is marketing, people! TerraCycle’s founder did not major in agro-ecology or horticulture or even waste management. He was an economics and psychology major at Princeton before dropping out. “Organic” and “Eco” are very trendy right now and we need to be careful about automatically assigning sainthood to these buzz words.

    Passionate and successful organic garden product manufacturers don’t hide their science and they don’t make bold, unverified claims. They also tend not to sell their wares at big box stores.

    Prove that this $7 bottle of liquid is simply pure and wonderful worm poop. Until then, it looks more like marketing bull poop, not worm poop.

  16. ok. That’s cool – you don’t love the product. Let me put it (my point) differently: How about, hopefully the good that can come of this (the giant megacorp suing fledgling company) is that people (especially those who shop at box stores) might take note that there are viable plant food alternatives to destructive chemicals (wrapped in other well marketed packages).

  17. angela says:

    “Let me put it (my point) differently: How about, hopefully the good that can come of this (the giant megacorp suing fledgling company) is that people (especially those who shop at box stores) might take note that there are viable plant food alternatives to destructive chemicals (wrapped in other well marketed packages).”

    Kris, I agree that gardeners should look for viable alternatives to synthetic fertilizers. Absolutely.

    I just don’t agree that TerraCycle is the victim here. There are plenty of organic fertilizer companies that list their ingredients and they don’t need to claim superiority over Miracle-Gro. In fact, most organic advocates will tell you the beneficial effects of organic fertilizers are longer term and not a growth-rate race performed under secretive (i.e. questionable) scientific conditions.

    Perhaps we could start a dialoge about our favorite organic fertilizers. :-)

    I’d rather people look for OMRI-certified organic fertilizers at their local nursery, hardware store and big box store.

    We consumer’s don’t have the skills or time to test products, but OMRI does. The fact that they gave TerraCycle an R rating should be a red flag until we know why.

    http://www.omri.org/

  18. Brent says:

    How much worm poop is in the bottle? If I can purchase a 50 lb bag of alfalfa pellets for $12, what would motivate me to purchase this bottle that seems to have a tiny bit of worm poop mixed with water for $8? It sure makes those $5 bags of LeafGro seem cheap. The fact that I see TerraCycle selling at Target and Home Depot tells me that they must have a decent marketing/sales division.

  19. “Perhaps we could start a dialoge about our favorite organic fertilizers. :-)”

    Angela, the more I learn about organic products, the better!
    We get asked by visitors what we do that makes our gardens so lush. In a nutshell, it’s the dreamy soil but for some things we also use Neptune’s Harvest fish fertilizer and Electra. The fish emulsion is so stinky especially indoors for houseplants that when we read about Terracycle, we told our visitors to the greenhouse who asked, to check it out.

  20. angela says:

    Hi Kris,

    A couple years ago, I went on a quest for non-stinky fish emulsion and was pleased to find the following:

    Drammatic Organic Plant Food with Kelp (OMRI A rating = unrestricted use)

    http://www.dramm.com/html/main.isx?sub=5

    I also use Eco-Nutrients, Inc. Eco-Nereo Kelp Liquid (OMRI = A), Fox Farm’s Grow Big and Tiger Bloom (not OMRI-tested), and Growmore Seaweed Extract (not OMRI-tested). Ok, these are all liquid so far. They all smell fine. You won’t want to dab it behind each ear like perfume, but you also won’t vomit and faint (Alaska brand, anyone?)

    In the granular and pelletized realm, I use:

    — Whitney Farms (brand)
    — Peace of Mind (brand)
    — Pelletized fish fertilizer from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (bulk bags, can’t remember who makes it). I can’t tell you how nice the pellets are! They’re big, easy to broadcast, and don’t smell… much.

    Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (online and local), Planet Natural (online), and GardensAlive (online) have been good sources. Local nurseries have been ok sources, but they could certainly do better.

    Don’t like the meals as much as pellets because you end up breathing and tasting the product… yuck.

    Also loving my Can-o-Worms vermicomposting system. Fruit flies have been an issue, but I love being able to make my own worm tea and compost. Vinegar traps help with the fruit fly problem… I just need to replenish the vinegar traps more often.

    Not sure if it’s applicable to the U.K., but below is a link to the searchable OMRI database. You can sort by product, material, status (rating), etc.

    I’m sure there are good non-OMRI products out there, but I prefer to use products that have been tested/certified. I believe OMRI is akin to the Consumer Reports of organic gardening products. I think it also encourages companies to improve their products in order to earn that extra OMRI seal of approval.

    http://omri.org/OMRI_datatable.htm

    About OMRI: http://omri.org/OMRI_who.html

    I still haven’t figured out the restricted ingredient(s) in TerraCycle fertilizers. Apparently, they contain “generic materials” restricting their use. On the Generic Materials page, restrictions exist for “generic” ingredients such as: ethyl alcohol (disinfectant), isopropyl alcohol (disinfectant), and antibiotics. Several other ingredients are prohibited, including ammoniated micronutrients. Again… what’s in this stuff? Beats me.

    Is it really “THE MOST effective, convenient, affordable plant food you can buy”? Yeah, right.

    Is it true that it “outgrows synthetic fertilizers”? Doubtful. Does that even matter? Not necessarily.

    Is it “organic and extremely eco-friendly”? Maybe, maybe not.

    If TerraCycle wants to win the lawsuit against them, they should withdraw their exaggerated claims, fully divulge their ingredients, and strive toward earning an A from OMRI. A fertilizer doesn’t have to be the BEST PLANT FOOD ON EARTH in order for me to buy it… but it does have to be marketed honestly and openly and not in a way that attempts to manipulate the relatively recent mass popularity of recycling and organic gardening, along with the political incorrectness of large synthetic fertilizer companies… (that are starting to go organic, ironically enough).

    In the meantime, I will explore more A-rated products tested by OMRI and will pay attention to products like-minded gardeners are using.

  21. TerraCycle says:

    Here’s a link to TerraCycle’s appearance on BBC World News regarding the lawsuit with Scotts Miracle-Gro.. check it out!

  22. Rachelle says:

    Well, I just sent a nasty-gram to Scott’s, letting them know that I will never use their products again. I have about had it with these monolithic, greed-driven companies. It is time for small business to take over and drive these guys out. Make sure to tell everyone you know, including your local stores about your displeasure with Scott’s. And, buy Terracycle products.

  23. Billy says:

    Layanee and Angela right on. . .

    First of all, this is not David vs. Goliath. This is not Monsanto 10 years ago. Let’s make this very clear. Terra-Cycle’s product is not very good. In fact, it stinks.

    Don’t fall for this BS. Their CEO brought this lawsuit on to gain national exposure. It’s working. He openly defied numerous letters kindly asking him to rework the trade dress issue. He acted like a teen age brat defying authority and when he got scolded with a law suit he immediately turned it into a spin machine.

    “Please help us we are getting attack by the big conglomerate”, he cried.

    Give us all a break. Read between the lines. He cannot substantiate his false misrepresentations. He has major problems in his future.

    Please, the good people of this forum, do not get pulled into this specific cause. It is faux through and through.

    Now, with that said. Do I like Scott’s. No way! Soon, we are all hoping that there will be a new product that really is the REAL DEAL and this kid (Tom Szaky) who is pretending to be the next Bill Gates can bury his head in the sand. He needs to go sit in the corner. He is causing problems for the new legitimate vermicomposting upcoming companies in the industry.

    Terra-Cycle is not worthy of your energy attempting to save them. Szaky is an imposter. When it is all said and done and the real truth will comes out at trial, remember, you heard it here first.

    Next. . .

  24. P.Harris says:

    I hope Scotts wins the lawsuit personally! Terracycle is producing a crap product that does NOT work. It’s WAY over priced. It contains e coli. The “good” bacteria that is in the tea are dead by the time they are purchased by the consumer. The good bacteria need oxygen to live. They cannot get oxygen in a plastic bottle sitting on a store shelf. TerraCycle should not be able to sell there product. The avg. person is being taken advantage of when they purchase this product. Make your own FRESH tea people. It’s easy.

    TerraCycle Plant Food… NPK (.03-.002-.02) what a JOKE!

  25. Holly Blair says:

    Terracycle I never heard of it before… but is sounds great! (it helps that the CEO is pretty cute)… I’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for it… I heard Office Max is supposed to be teaming up to sell it in their stores…

  26. sexygirl says:

    I’ll bet you $100 that the 25-year-old creator of this worm-poop company wrote this lame article – & he is clearly not hot. How long does it take a worm to poop a bottle’s worth of the product?…lol

  27. Vix says:

    I will always stand by Scotts, their bottle does look like theMiracle-Gro all purpose range… Its a dog eat dog world! Its business! You cant copy! and dont even bother to pretend you didnt! Scotts have built their way up from nothing and have been a huge sucess and will continue to be, I bet no-one ‘let them off’ copying them when they were a small company, so why should they let Terra-cycle off?? It makes Terra-cycle look like a cheap copy, a fake, something you get in a pound shop. Be original! Have your own ideas. All you needed was a better designed label! No big deal, just an original design! Different colours, and make use of a recycling sign in the logo.

    Just have a look at a bag of Mircle-gro all purpose growing compost…. hmmm terra-cycle where did you get your idea???

    http://www.lovethegarden.com/products/composts/mgallpurpose.html

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