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A Ray of Hope from the Lone Star State


By United States Census Bureau, modified by Decius (Based on Image:Serbin TX.PNG with dot erased), colour added by PonderTerra, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From way up here in the Great White North (aka Canada) it is easy to view Texas as a collection of stereotypes. Many of us have some kind of mental image involving cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats and plate-sized steak dinners. Those of us who grew up with Dallas (the TV show) may also think of big bad oil companies.

When the discussion shifts to science and education, what comes to my mind are the textbook battles that the state seems to go through on a regular basis.

Two of the most publicized battles involve the teaching of evolution and climate change.  In my superficial understanding of the situation, the groups responsible for selecting the science textbooks for the entire state’s schools have been infiltrated by unscientific groups who exercise significant control in choosing the content.  As a result, evolution and climate change are either removed, rebranded as possible theories, or placed up against competing and contradictory pseudo-scientific theories. In both cases, the intent is to place doubt in the real scientific results and, by association, the scientists and their methods.  Indoctrinating people when they are young, especially with the help of publicly funded institutions, is much more cost effective for those wanting to sell an alternate, unscientific message that goes against what science is telling us.

Since Texas is one of the biggest textbook markets in the US, their choice frequently directly influences what other states use.  In other words the stakes are huge.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when I saw the following recent article at

Science Textbooks Across the Country Will Teach Real Science Because of a Decision in Texas

This time around, it appears that the Texas Board of Education consulted with top Texan scientists and teachers and accepted their recommendations almost without change. As a result it is more likely that evolution and climate change science will now be taught without too much of a taint from special-interests.

As for me, it’s probably time for me to review my collection of Texas stereotypes.

References and Some Further Reading

2013-11-29:  Ryan Koronowski, Science Textbooks Across the Country Will Teach Real Science Because of a Decision in Texas

2003-07-09:  Steven Schafersman President, Texas Citizens for Science;  TEXAS TEXTBOOK ADOPTION: An Historical Analysis

National Center for Science Education:  Climate Change Education

2013-11-27:  Chris Mooney,  Why Climate Change Skeptics and Evolution Deniers Joined Forces


Artificial turf video: “What’s the Deal With Synthetic Turf Particles?”

I came across this interesting video What’s the Deal With Synthetic Turf Particles? on YouTube recently which looks into a number of issues associated with the use of crumbled tire waste as a filler for artificial turf. This video is focused on sports field installations but many of the issues apply to domestic installations as well.


Richard Alley on Glaciers, Climate-change and Sea-level

Slip Slidin’ Away – Ice sheets and sea level in a warming world

I like Richards presentation style.  The story is pretty interesting too though the implications that sea-level rise might have some unpredictable relatively sudden events should is a tad scary.


James Hansen TED Talk

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change

This may be more than a year old but it is still news worth listening to.

The Artificial Grass Lawn – What a Waste

It has been almost two years since I wrote my article Artificial Turf Grass Lawn – Good Idea or Bad? A couple of the comments on that article have induced me to write this short follow-up as there was the suggestion that I am a naysayer implying that I am biased against artificial turf. I’m not against artificial turf per se. I’m just advocating for a careful analysis of the real long term costs. I also have a lot of criticisms for the perfectly manicured lawn.

One person commenting on the original article mentioned the HOA (Home-Owner Association) and the fact that those who are a part of one may not have the choice of anything but the flat green expanse of a lawn – artificial or real. This is a problem with the HOA itself and does nothing to change any positive or negative aspects of either natural or artificial turf.

If someone were to come up with a good way to deal with the end-of-life issues when the artificial turf has to be replaced, that could go a long way towards changing my opinion on some aspects of artificial turf. To see why this is a big deal, let’s take the extreme case where everybody switches to artificial turf.

In a 2005 article entitled Could the Grass be Greener? Thomas Hayden talks about the environmental costs of what he calls America’s biggest irrigated crop, the 40 million acres or so of grass that is found on residential lawns, in parks and sports fields and in many other spots big and small across America.

Let’s assume that we were going to replace the entire 40 million acres of organic stuff with the plastic variety. Most artificial turf has an advertised lifespan of about 10 years so, there would be 4 million acres of artificial turf going into the landfill each year per current practices.

The US creates about 200 million tons of garbage each year so the obvious question is: how does 4 million acres compare with 200 million tons. That’s like comparing apples and orange-peels so it’s time for some research.

I found one artificial turf installer in Southern California ( that lists the face weight (artificial grass product only) and installed weight (including backing and infill) of their products in ounces per square yard. Face weight values ranged from 65 to 88 ounces per square yard with corresponding installed weights of 90 to 116 ounces.

Let’s use a number in the middle of these ranges, say 96 ounces (six pounds) per square yard. There are 4840 square yards in an acre so an acre would weigh 14.5 tons which means those 4 million acres turn into 58 million tons of landfill each year. In the all-artificial-turf world, per capita waste would be 30% higher than it otherwise would be with plain old grass. We could bicker a little over packaging for fertilizers and grass seed or manufacturing waste during the production of related products but my guess is that they would not change the numbers very much.

The bottom line is that artificial turf results in a lot of waste and most installers who tout the benefits of their product don’t have much to say about the liabilities that accrue as the turf wears out. What if tipping fees at your local dump triple – or worse yet, what if turf is banned from the public landfills altogether?

One problem with the discourse over artificial turf is that it is always compared with a lawn of healthy green sod that is heavily watered, fed with fertilizers and sprayed with pesticides. If we throw in other options like xeriscaping, letting it go brown, vegetable gardens, rock gardens, etc. then both real and artificial turf would quickly find themselves low down on the environmental heap.

Review: Straphanger

There is a new book just out by Taras Grescoe called “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.” He was interviewed on CBC Radio recently on “The Current”.  Last time that I checked, the full interview was still online here.  I’m more than halfway through the eBook version (for Kobo) and quite depressed at how far most of North America is behind many other parts of the world.

Chapter 9 talks about Portland Oregon and Vancouver (my region).  Happily Vancouver gets a pretty good grade by North American standards.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 5 focussing on Copenhagen, Denmark.  To see why, I only need quote a single paragraph:

Bicycles here actually outnumber humans.  At the last tally, central Copenhagen counted 560,000 bikes, but only 519,000 people.  In the greater Copenhagen area, 37 percent of residents get to work or school by bicycle – a proportion that jumps to 55 percent in the central core – and these numbers are rising every year.  To put this in context: more people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen, population 1.8 million, than cycle to work in the entire United States, pop. 310 million.

Before you start making excuses as to why your city could never embrace the bicycle in the same way go find Copenhagen on a map.  If it were at the same latitude but on the west coast of North America it would actually be in Alaska.

Overall, the book is easy to read and full of cool historic detail that helps provide perspective as to how different cities, regions and countries ended up, for better or worse, as they did. I prefer Taras’ writing style to that of many books that are littered with statistics and footnotes.

The title of a review of Straphanger in the Globe and Mail sums it up: “Why North America sucks at mass transit”.

Two thumbs up!

From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea – Hiking, Birding and Climate Change

…in which I describe some of our favourite hiking and bird-watching spots in and around the Coachella Valley and muse about the future of the Salton Sea with and without the help of Climate Change.

In and Around Palm Springs

We spent an extra-long weekend recently vacationing in the Palm Springs area, a place we’ve been to from time to time since we discovered it while living the greater Los Angeles area a few years back.  As we are presently living in British Columbia we have an added appreciation of the warmth in the wintertime.  Now, we don’t go there to golf or to sit pool-side and get a tan.  What we do like about the area are all the interesting places to hike and look for wildlife – mostly birds.

In Palm Springs and the surrounding communities, the heavy use of water for lawns, pools and various kinds of plant-life provides a good habitat for birds that, in many cases, would never be found in the desert.  Despite all the development there are still many interesting natural places to hike and look for wildlife in the area.  Some of our favorites are listed below:

  • Joshua Tree National Park is quite large and has extensive hiking trails at all difficulty levels.  It is also popular with rock-climbers.  We saw our first Gambel’s QuailScott’s Oriole and Ladder-backed Woodpecker in different parks of the park.
  • The Palms to Pines Scenic Byway which takes you in a loop from desert to pine forests and back up into the San Jacinto mountains south of Palm Springs.  There are lots of places to hike and look for wildlife along the way.  Idyllwild is roughly half way around the loop and a good place to stop for lunch.
  • The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in Morongo Valley with its marsh and numerous trails is a good place to hike and, depending on the time of year, a favorite for bird-watching groups from all over Southern California.  We had our first sightings of the Vermillion Flycatcher (a gorgeous male) and the tiny but distinctive Calliope Hummingbird here within a few meters of the main parking lot.  One of our visits also treated us to a display of two Virginia Rails, usually quite furtive, chasing each other around a section of the marsh.
  • The Living Desert is Zoo, Botanical Garden and other stuff all bundled together.  A fun place to spend a half-day and a magnet for a number of bird species.  We saw our first Verdin and Costa’s Hummingbird here though both are quite common around the valley.  There’s a very cool and quite large model train exhibit too.
  • The Indian Canyons is close to Palm Springs and has extensive hiking trails.
  • The Thousand Palms Oasis is close to the Palm Springs area just a few minutes off of Interstate 10 using the Ramon exit.  This is a nice place to visit if you only have a couple of hours.  Our favorite walk is the McCallum Trail, a short desert hike between two oases.  There are typically lots of birds and, unfortunately, lots of places for them to hide from view.

The California Watchable Wildlife site has a good summary page for hiking and wildlife viewing in the Palm Springs area.

On to the Salton Sea

This was the first time that we visited the Salton Sea at the south end of the Coachella Valley though we only made it to the Salton Sea State Recreational Area along the North-East edge of the lake.  The wetlands further south will have to wait until next time.

The shore was lined with gulls and shorebirds attracted, in part, by the good supply of fish in the sea – mostly tilapia, a tropical species and one of the few left in the lake due to its high level of salinity.  A recent cool spell had actually caused a significant die-off leaving large areas of the shoreline covered in dead fish.  Luckily, the cool weather kept the smell down (we’ve heard that the lake can be quite stinky at various times of the year).

Winter time is not the best time of the year for birds here though we did see one new species that we had never seen before – the Abert’s Towhee – a large species of sparrow at the western edge of its range.  We were also somewhat surprised to see 5 Sora within a few yards of each other.  The Sora, though common, is a marsh dweller that is normally quite furtive and whenever we have seen them in the past it was always one at a time.

It was a productive, if short, first trip to the Salton Sea.

Some Salton Sea History

Following my visit, I decided to find out more about the Salton Sea, its importance for wildlife and what the future might have in store with and without the effects of climate change.  Here is a summary of what I think are some of the more interesting bits (I provide links for those wanting more detail).

The Salton Sea is the largest lake in California and one of the best places to see birds in the southern part of the state, particularly during spring and fall migration.

The surface of the sea is almost 230 feet below sea level.  If you look at a topographic map you will see that the Salton Sea sits at the north end of the rift forming the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez to some).  A long time ago the Salton basin, sometimes referred to as the Salton Sink, was cut off from the rest of the gulf by an alluvial plain created by silt from the Colorado River.  The subsequent history of the basin was one of intermittent filling and drying up as the flow of the Colorado River changed.

The most recent filling occurred when a levy broke along the Colorado River in 1905 which led to the creation of the sea over a period of a year and a half until the original river flow was restored.  Since then the inflow from agricultural irrigation runoff has kept the sea from disappearing.  With no output, the sea is currently 25% saltier than the ocean which has caused many of the previously introduced fish species to disappear – and it is getting saltier every year so that it is only a matter of time until it can no longer support any fish species at all.  Worse yet, with the heavy demand for water in the American Southwest, the sea may yet disappear altogether from diminished agricultural runoff if nothing is done to stabilize it.

So why should we care if the sea dries up?  After all, the Salton Sea has been dry many times before.

One reason is that the sea represents an important stop along the “pacific flyway”, the migration route followed by millions of birds each year.  More than 90% of California’s wetlands that once formed part of this flyway have disappeared as a result of human development – much of that since the formation of the Salton Sea.  If the sea disappears, the effect on bird migration may be significant as many of the alternate stopping points that once existed no longer do.

A second reason is that if the sea dries up, the resulting dry lake bed is expected to cause serious air-quality problems as strong winds send clouds of aerosolized salt and dust into surrounding areas.  To understand what the consequences of a dried up Salton Sea might be, consider the legacy of Owens Lake which lies about 200 miles due north of Los Angeles and along the eastern edge of the Serra Nevadas, between Sequoia National Park and Death Valley.  In 1913 the water that normally flowed into the lake was diverted to supply Los Angeles and within 15 years the lake was dry.  Today, Los Angeles County is still suffering the consequences of this water diversion as the 2011 essay Dreams, Dust and Birds: The Trashing of Owens Lake by Karen Piper poignantly describes.  In draining the lake, they have, decades later, run afoul of both EPA air quality regulations and the North American Migratory Birds Treaty Act.

If you are interested in additional information on Owen’s Lake I would recommend reading the articles: Owens (Dry) Lake, California: A Human-Induced Dust Problem from the USGS and Owens Lake by the non-profit Owens Valley Committee.

For more information on the Salton Sea, see the The Salton Sea Story…so far, a position paper by the Buena Vista Audubon Society (representing north-eastern San Diego County).  Another excellent read is the 2005 National Geographic article on the Salton Sea (make sure to follow the link to the full article).  Finally, on a somewhat unrelated note, you might find the 2011 article Flooding of Ancient Salton Sea Linked to San Andreas Earthquakes from ScienceDaily interesting.

So, What’s in Store for the Salton Sea?

In 2003, an agreement was made between the state of California, 4 water districts and some environmental groups that redistributed a large chunk of the Colorado River water rights in southern California.  For the Salton Sea this meant less inflow from surrounding agricultural areas that had lost some of their irrigation water.  As part of the deal, the state of California assumed the responsibility for mitigating environmental damage which has resulted in the development of a Salton Sea restoration plan which appears to be still in the approval phase.

Restoration looks like it will be expensive too – one estimate I have seen was for about $7-billion.  I guess that it should not be surprising that this project would be expensive since the plan is in effect fighting Nature.  If left alone without the agricultural runoff inflow, the Salton Sea would probably have disappeared years ago with much less of a salt-dust problem.

With large budget deficits at both the state and federal level, I can imagine that there will be significant resistance to such an expenditure so whether or not the Salton Sea will ever be truly stabilized is not clear.

I wonder how many wetlands could be restored elsewhere in California for $7 billion?

The Salton Sea with Climate Change

I have to admit that the future of the Salton Sea looks gloomy, even without climate change.  Climate change is expected to make the climate in the southwest of the US both warmer and drier meaning less inflow and higher evaporation rates making stabilization even more difficult.

Climate change, however, may be the ultimate savior for the Sea.  One of my favorite climate change tools on the web is the interactive Sea Level Rise Explorer.  I grabbed an image from this tool showing the elevation above sea level for areas between the Salton Sea and the Gulf of California.  You can see that a rise in sea level of about 10 meters would be enough for the Salton Sea to rejoin the Gulf of California.

How long will it take for sea levels to rise 10 meters or more?  Looking at different sources of information shows significant uncertainty, however, it is interesting to note that the Dutch are planning for 2 to 4 meters of sea level rise by the year 2200 (see this NY Times article) in their plans for protecting their country from raising seal levels.  At these rates it will take 5 to 10 centuries before the ocean starts to fill the Salton Sea.  Given the apparent global political disinterest in dealing with climate change, it seems almost certain that it is only a matter of time until the Gulf of California reclaims its long-lost Salton basin.

Review: Winter Harvest Handbook by Eliot Coleman

The full cover title of this book, published in 2009, is  The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses.

One of my ongoing interests is food security and the evolution of our current predominantly industrial food system as we move towards a post-peak-oil and eventually a post-fossil-fuel future.  For long-term food security our future food system needs to be healthy, affordable and sustainable.  Obviously, our current highly energy and fossil-fuel intensive food production and distribution networks are going to have to change significantly as the energy they require becomes too expensive or simply unavailable.

Living in Canada, a major focus of my interest is on the cold, dark winter months during which the farmers’ fields are dormant and the produce section at the local supermarket is full of imported food sometimes from halfway around the globe.  My initial assumption was that most of the fresh vegetables that we now expect year round would no longer be affordably available much of the year (if at all) and there would be a higher dependence on storage crops, preserves, grains and meat in the winter time.

Quite by accident, I discovered Eliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook, in the new-book section of the local library and borrowed it out of curiosity (I now have the Kindle version on my iPad).  This book has convinced me that many of my original assumptions were wrong and my concerns were unfounded.  Eliot Coleman shows how, on his small farm in Maine, he is able to grow many vegetable crops year-round with the help of specially designed unheated or minimally heated greenhouses.  Based on several years of research he describes how, through careful planning and an understanding of the local climate, he can keep his vegetable production economically productive all year sometimes harvesting 5 to 6 crops from the same piece of land while maintaining soil health.

I particularly enjoyed the second chapter ‘Historical Inspiration’ which describes how intensive year-round farming was common in pre-oil times in Northern Europe.  For instance, in the late 1800’s, the city of Paris was self-sufficient in vegetables year-round and even exported vegetables to England, all from roughly 6% of the Parisian land-area which I suspect is substantially less than the paved area of many modern cities.

We’re pretty much city people so it is unlikely that I personally will put Eliot Coleman’s winter farming methods into practice however that is not why I read or recommend this book.  Eliot Coleman shows that with research, ingenuity and a good knowledge of how selected crops grow, it is possible to economically produce vegetables year-round in many cold climates.  If more farmers applied Eliot Coleman’s methods, it would provide their communities with improved local food security with a low environmental footprint.

Of course, the consumer is going to have to change their expectations though they will have more choice than if we try to drag our current far-away, anything-you-want-anytime-you-want-it, fossil-fuel-intensive, mega-farm agriculture into an age of scarce oil.  In a future sustainable world some hot-weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers will be unavailable part of the year however in this post-fossil-fuel world there will be many things that we will have to give up as we are forced to live more locally and less energy intensively.

If I had some land and planned a small scale farming operation, I would find the Winter Harvest Handbook to be a valuable resource.  As someone concerned with sustainable agriculture and future food security, I find it a source of hope and inspiration.

For more information on Eliot Coleman, his farm and other books that he has written see the Four Season Farm web site.

(A version of this review is also posted on GoodReads)

Artificial Turf Grass Lawn – Good Idea or Bad?

A story on CBC radio recently caught my attention (related article: Artificial grass growing in Ottawa).  Apparently, more Canadian home-owners than ever are replacing grass lawns with artificial turf – the same stuff that is used on sports fields.

My first reaction when I heard the story was one of dismay.  Replacing a grass lawn with plastic artificial turf sounded just plain wrong so it was time to do some research.

If you search online you quickly find many articles discussing the advantages and disadvantages of both real and artificial turf.  Many of these are associated with one side or other of the debate so it can be difficult to develop an objective viewpoint.  Here is are a few references to web-sites and web-articles that help paint a rough picture of what the two sides have to say:

What the Artificial Turf Industry Says…

One of the larger North American artificial turf companies is FieldTurf.  Their web-site has a lot of information including a page on How FieldTurf is Good for the Environment (remember that this is a pro-artificial-turf company).  They have another page of Environmental Downloads with links to several informative documents for issues often associated with the real-vs-artificial turf debate.  FieldTurf appears to be one of the only companies involved in the recycling of used artificial turf (most used turf ends up in a landfill I suspect).  Their Environmental Responsibility page and articles in the Recycling Product News and AthleticBusiness provide a good description of how they can recycle old turf.  Note that this recycling appears to be for their own FieldTurf product only during a new FieldTurf installation and because the removal of old material is performed using specialized machinery, similar recycling may not be available or feasible for smaller landscaping projects such as residential lawns.

Other useful industry resources:

What the Natural Turf Industry Says…

Two short articles summarizing some of the issues from the grassy side of the fence are Artificial turf is an alternative to concrete not grass from the Golf and Sports Turf, Australia archives and Environmental Impact of Turfgrass from Blue Grass Enterprises.

One of the best articles that I have found that everyone considering artificial turf should read is called The Dirt on Turf.  While it is focused on sports applications and not residential landscaping, the information should still be useful for landscaping applications and even though it is written by the pro-grass crowd, it does identify a number of issues that you should investigate if considering an artificial lawn.

Other useful industry resources:

So, What’s the Right Answer?

When the issue is what to use on a sports field, then real and artificial turf are pretty much the only two options (if you play tennis, clay might be OK too).  Which solution is best will depend a lot on the specific details of the planned project.

When it comes to home landscaping, however, there seems to be an implicit assumption that these are still the only options.  For the most part, our society has accepted this as the default point of view – we have been brain-washed to believe that the green lawn is the standard for home landscaping regardless of cost.  Some historical context for this can be found in the following 2 articles:

The Lowdown on Lawn History

Lawn Madness – The Tyranny of Greenery

Anyone who wants to know more might also want to check out the book (on my reading list) by Ted Steinberg called American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn.

And then there is this purported conversation between God and St Francis.

So what’s the best option for your lawn?  Maybe neither…

The Third Option

It is easy to get sucked into believing that there are only 2 options for your lawn – real or artificial turf.  In the case of your lawn there are actually many options depending on how much your really need grass, how adventuresome you are and to some extent on how enlightened or lenient your neighbours and the local bylaws are.  A few ideas that come to mind include:

  • Consider xeriscaping (landscaping with little or no watering).  In some areas this might mean forgoing grass altogether.  How about a well-designed rock-garden with native plants that need little or no additional water in your climate?
  • Cut back on watering.  So what if the grass gets a little brown during hot, dry weather.  Grass can often survive relatively severe dry spells if you don’t need it to be a perfect green colour (I don’t consider grass painting a reasonable option).  According to one article on grub control, letting the lawn dry out helps control grubs because the beetle eggs laid one summer become next year’s grub infestation and these eggs need moisture to hatch and grow properly.  In other words, by watering to keep the grass green throughout the season you may be encouraging next year’s grub infestations that will require more chemical use later on.
  • Replace the electric or gas mowers with push mowers or four-legged ones (aka sheep).  See this link on wooly lawn mowers for instance.
  • Turn your lawn into a food-producing garden.  If you don’t have the time, expertise or inclination then look for a local group that is willing to do the work for you, maybe even paying you in produce or cash for some or all of the harvest (see this Vancouver area community supported agriculture link for an example).
  • Consider replacing petroleum based chemicals with something more natural.  Be careful, however, because ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ do not always mean safe or sustainable.  Consider leaving the grass clippings and add compost for fertilizer and using plants that attract natural predators for pest control.

If You Are Still Considering that Plastic Lawn…

If you really do think that an artificial turf lawn is right for you, I would encourage you to carefully investigate all of the issues associated with acquisition, upkeep and eventual disposal/replacement.  Use the document The Dirt on Turf from Blue Grass Enterprises as a source of questions to ask your chosen turf supplier.

Look into what will be required to maintain the artificial turf after installation.  A good reference that I found is the Maintenance Guidelines for Artificial Turf Systems from Mondo, a large European manufacturer of artificial turf that has been a major supplier to the Olympics for many years.  While this manual appears to be aimed at Mondo’s sport-turf products, most of it should also apply to their landscape products as well.  If I were considering using artificial turf for a residential landscaping project then the Mondo manual would raise a number of red-flags.  How much effort will be required to keep the turf clear of organic matter.  Will it be possible to isolate the artificial turf from trees, natural grass, sources of mud, soil or other organic matter, cigarette butts, chewing gum, etc?  What if window washers, roofers or other contractors need to raise a ladder against the house – will the legs of the ladder exceed the 3 psi static load limit and damage the turf?  How about a picnic table?  How about a person spending the afternoon sitting in a lawn chair?

Besides maintenance issues, here are some additional points to consider:

  • Artificial turf gets very hot on a sunny day.  Will that affect how you use your lawn?  You might have to water it to keep it cool.  Check out this article on Turf Temperatures.
  • In winter, will you need to remove snow and ice from parts of the artificial lawn?  Snow and ice removal requires special care to avoid damaging the turf.  See, for example, the eHow article: How to Remove Snow From Artificial Turf.
  • The life expectancy of artificial turf means that it will need to be replaced, say every 10 years or so.  How much will it cost to remove and dispose of old turf? What are the regulations in your jurisdiction for disposal of artificial turf or the rubber-tire based infill?  If landfilled, you will need to estimate future landfill tipping fees.  How much will it cost to re-install new material once the old plastic turf is removed?
  • How will the presence of artificial turf affect the value of your property?  Artificial lawns, particularly in temperate areas like Ottawa, may be a new fad that, in 10 years, may be considered an expensive liability.  What does the local real estate industry think?


Few articles that I found discuss the long term consequences of using real and artificial turf.  One exception was a detailed report produced by Athena Sustainable Materials Institute which estimated the carbon footprints of both real and artificial turf installations for a sports field at Upper Canada College.  They determined that, in order for their new artificial turf field to be carbon neutral, they would need to plant 1861 trees for the required carbon offset associated with the estimated 10 year lifetime.  No carbon offset would have been required for a grass field.  Even with the inclusion of carbon offsets, it is hard to call this sustainable because every 10 years more trees will have to be planted to offset the fossil fuels used to create new artificial turf.

Imagine every yard and green space covered with artificial turf and needing to be replaced every 10 years or so with the old material being hauled away and disposed of.  The resulting waste stream would make the waste stream from asphalt roof shingles seem small in comparison.  Even if all of the plastic turf could be recycled there would be a large energy cost associated with the process. FieldTurf, the only company that I found that offers turf recycling, only down-cycles the old turf into different non-turf plastic products so petroleum is still required for any new replacement turf.  It is hard to imagine how artificial turf can be made truly carbon-neutral and sustainable.

The pursuit of the perfect grass lawn is also largely unsustainable in most areas of North America.  However, there are more options available to reduce the environmental footprint without totally giving up a grass lawn.  For those who are willing to give up the traditional lawn altogether then there is the possibility of greatly reducing or even eliminating the footprint altogether.

The Bottom Line

Growing up, we lived for several years in a typical small bungalow with both front and back lawns covered in grass.  Over time, our lawns evolved into beds of flowers, a large back-yard vegetable garden and patches of clover that attracted honey bees and other insects.  One grassy area in the front-yard was peppered with hidden crocus bulbs that magically appeared each spring.  We started with a push mower but eventually upgraded to an electric model.  Occasionally we had to water and some fertilizer may have been applied from time to time but overall we had a fairly low maintenance, low footprint yard.  No artificial turf could ever have made it any better.

If, after weighing all the pros and cons, you still feel the need for an artificial turf yard, perhaps you should be looking for a condominium instead.

How Bad are Bananas? (Update)

Since I reviewed How Bad are Bananas? almost a year ago, a North American version has been published.  I downloaded the free Kindle preview to see how it compares to the original UK version and it appears to be pretty similar with a few edits here or there and some conversions of metric units into US friendly equivalents.

I still highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to know about the carbon-footprint of different things from everyday life.  The print version might make a nice stocking stuffer.  For those preferring electronic books, Amazon has a Kindle version, Chapters-Indigo has an Kobu eBook version and Apple has a version that you can get from the iBooks Store.