It is impossible to truly know the answer to this question without knowing what lawn care regimen the home owner is likely to follow. If their gardening program involves some combination of fertilizers, pesticides, power tools, undisciplined automated irrigation (almost everyone over-waters their lawn) and hired gardeners, then fake grass is the hands down winner. If the home owner is diligent about their gardening routine with an eye out for the environment, then real grass may be better.
Most of the environmental drawbacks of sod lawns are fairly obvious. First and foremost, they need water to stay healthy… a lot of water! The average American lawn, (about 500 square feet), consumes 22,600 gallons of water a year. Lawns planted in the sandy soil areas of San Francisco drain very quickly and are even more wasteful.
Gas-powered lawn care equipment is more than just noisy and smelly. According to a study conducted by Sweden’s Stockholm University in 2001, an hour’s worth of mowing resulted in the same amount of emissions as driving the average car for 93 miles. If that mower is transported to the site by a gardener, the numbers go up. Tack on leaf-blowers and power-edgers and the emission picture gets even bleaker, especially when considering the staggering number of lawns across the country. The EPA estimates that 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year just filling lawn equipment. That is more than the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
Another strike against a real lawn is that it is frequently fed with fertilizers to keep it lush and green, most of which is synthetic. American home owners use approximately 3 million tons of synthetic fertilizers every year. It takes a barrel of oil to create 560 pounds of such fertilizer, so the national cost of keeping lawns green amounts to 11.8 million barrels of crude oil annually. We also use more than 70 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides on our lawns every year. According to an extensive report published by the EPA titled ‘Sustainable Landscaping’, 40-60% of these chemicals find their way into our local water systems.
A more insidious issue inherit in lawn maintenance is the grass clippings. Millions of people nationwide roll their green bins out to the curb week after week …it’s like magic! The contents disappear! The EPA estimates that at least one-third of all landfill material is yard waste. Once buried and deprived of sunlight and oxygen, grass clippings undergo an anaerobic breakdown which produces methane gas, a greenhouse gas and major contributing factor to global warming. Landfills are the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States.
On the positive side, lawns do act as carbon sinks. Satellite photos show that the United States is covered with 40 million acres of lawns. These lawns consume 13.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually. This does help off-set the amount of energy that goes into lawn care, (a multi-billion dollar industry), but not completely.
Fake lawns do not require watering, mowing or fertilizing to look green and lush all year long. Their biggest environmental infraction is in the manufacturing. The backbone of fake grass consists of polymers, which is a petroleum base product that requires a great deal of energy to make. There are a few manufacturers that make a completely recyclable product, but not enough, so it is likely that most artificial turf will end up as landfill.
So what is the carbon footprint of an artificial lawn? The most intensive study to date was conducted by a group of guilt ridden Canadians at the Athena Institute who decided to replace the school’s playing field with artificial turf. They concluded that their 96,840 square foot athletic field could be made carbon neutral by planting 1,861trees and maintaining them for a decade. Given that the average lawn is around 500 square feet; their study infers that the carbon offset for the average synthetic lawn could be made carbon neutral by planting and maintaining ten trees for ten years.
There is also the concern about fake grass using rubber infill, crumbs of recycled tires that are distributed between the blades of grass for support. The fear is that crumb rubber off-gasses and that the resulting fumes can create respiratory health issues. Industry experts claim that there is no environmental hazard to this practice although they do admit that crumb rubber does tend to migrate where it is not wanted, being carried by shoes, pet paws, water and wind.
The bottom line is that whatever lane you choose, real lawn or fake lawn, you should commit yourself to making environmentally sound choices along the way. Real lawns need to be managed responsibly. If you decide to go the faux route and you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the most environmentally responsible artificial lawn company in the area is The Good Nature Company and their fake grass: onelawn®.
Onelawn® requires no crumb rubber infill. It is guaranteed to last 20 years and it is the only fake grass available in the bay area that is 100% recyclable. To insure a carbon neutral footprint for their business, The Good Nature Company partners with Trees For The Future in planting one hundred trees worldwide for every one lawn they install.
The Good Nature Company can be reached by calling 1-877-66 1-LAWN (5296) or go to their website: www.onelawn.com