Poor Quality Composts Are Frequently Discussed Online. But Complaining To Groups On Facebook Doesn’t Help. So What Are Your Legal Rights? I Explain My Understanding Here.

Law on poor quality compost

I see a lot of online complaints about gardening purchases. From plug plants that are very small or damaged to seeds that don’t germinate. But the most common complaint is about poor quality compost. The thing is, complaining to other gardeners doesn’t solve the problem and in this article I’m going to show you how I tackle any problem I encounter. I have to admit I don’t suffer many poor purchases. That’s not down to luck alone. There’s a reason for it. Let me explain.

Is The Problem the Purchase Or Me?

We are not perfect. We make mistakes. Sadly, we don’t always recognise our errors, so we want explanations and have a tendency to want to blame something or someone.

Here’s an example I’ve recently seen. Someone complained to me that the seed they bought was dud. They had carefully sown new seed in good compost in new sed trays, waited over a month and nothing had germinated. They blamed the dud seed.

But it wasn’t the seed. There was nothing wrong with the seed, the compost etc. They were the problem, or at least their lack of knowledge and high expectations were.

They chosen a good variety of tomato that should have germinated in a few days in warm conditions. I tested the few seeds that they had left over. They germinated very quickly.

The problem was they had put them in an unheated greenhouse that frequently froze. Tomatoes need warmth to germinate. I know I have written in other articles about how I germinate a lot of seed in an unheated greenhouse and how I grow and harvest salad leaf crops all winter. But these crops cope with the cold and tomatoes don’t. The failure isn’t in the seed, it’s in the growing.

So complaining to the company about the seed isn’t going to be productive. Learning more about growing will be.

Another seed complaint I frequently see and have experienced myself is about the number of seed in a packet. Small seed isn’t possible to count and it is weighed. However larger seed is often sold by count. Usually the pack will say contains an average of x seed or sometimes gives an exact number. So for example I have bought a pack of seven Strelitizia regina seeds and was happy to see exactly seven seeds in a pack. It’s relatively expensive seed and I understand why it is sold by count.

On another occasion I bought a pack of dahlia seeds where the pack said average count 50 seeds. On looking I thought there’s never 50 seeds in there and counted them. There were 21 seeds. An average is just that, an average over several packs. And I’d expect a few more or less in some packs. But less than half the number stretches credibility and, in my view, is cause for concern and complaint.

Poor quality compost is a slightly different thing. It isn’t necessarily down to a count or what we are doing, though defining what poor means is difficult in some senses.. I’ll explain that next.

How Is Compost Made And What Is Poor Quality Compost?

Compost is basically decomposed organic matter. So if you buy a bag of compost that’s what it should contain. It shouldn’t contain a lot of plastic, glass or other inclusions. However, products such as peat often contained bits of wood and that was expected, the reason being that as peat formed bit of bog oak and other trees fell into the bog and were preserved. So some got into the bags of peat.

A similar situation is going to happen when organic material is decomposed. Anything in the material used will remain. So if someone puts plastic into a green bin for recycling it will still be there once the product is bagged as a final compost.

Of course councils and other producers ask us not to put rubbish in th green waste bins, and they do screen them for big stuff such as large branches. But there is a limit to what is achievable and some rubbish is bound to be included in the finished material.

I’m not making excuses for the producers of bagged compost. I’m being realistic. And realism means I also expect them to screen the finished product through a rotating sieve or similar to remove the worse of the rubbish in it. Most rubbish should be removed either before or after decomposition.

If I were to open a bag of compost and it had one small piece of rubbish in it I’d live with it. But if there was a lot of glass, wood, bits of clay etc I’d be far from happy.

But being unhappy and ranting on social media isn’t going to help though. There is a way to deal with complaints that is far more satisfactory.

How To Complain About Poor Quality Garden Products Including Compost

When I had a a pack of 21 seeds, when it should have averaged 50, I emailed the company and said I thought they ought to know the count was very low and asked for their comments. I kept it polite, didn’t rant or threaten and asked for their view of the situation.

The seed company responded with a polite thank you email, apologised and said they were sending a replacement pack.

It was a simple and quick way to deal with things and no one got stressed or abusive.

With compost I’d take a few photos of the rubbish and email it to the retailer and manufacturer asking for comment.

I’m not a lawyer but my understanding is that when we buy the product our contract is with the retailer NOT the manufacturer. The retailer needs to sort it out. Saying we need to contact the manufacturer is not correct .. though many do try this as a way to dodge the bullet. That’s why I write to both in the same email.

What Are Our Legal Rights?

Again I stress, I’m not a lawyer. But my understanding is that we have rights in UK law. Under the Consumer Rights Act, all products must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and as described. 21 seeds when there should be an average of 50 breaks this requirement. And too much rubbish in compost does as well.

Of course the arguable bit is when is a small amount reasonable and when is it in breach of legislation. Ultimately that is for the courts to decide, but few of us want to go there. Nor do the companies. So they often agree to refund or replace the product if approached calmly and politely.

If you want objective legal advice on the legislation or your particular problem I suggest trying Citizen Advice as worth considering. They can advise on the situation in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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4 thoughts on “Poor Quality Composts & Other Gardening Items, Your Legal Rights

  1. Casey Jones says:

    A very sensible article. Now that we are turning to non peat-based composts we are going to have to alter the way we grow things and maybe choose different varieties than those we have used in the past.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      I agree. We can no longer continue as we used to.

  2. Absolutely spot on. A reputable company will deal with the complaint professionally to ensure customer satisfaction.
    There are so many factors involved in compost, seed, plant production that they will go wrong on occasion.

    1. Stefan Drew says:

      I totally agree.

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