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The Artificial Grass Lawn – What a Waste

2013-09-10

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 (http://www.hunnydograss.com/) 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.

3 Comments
  1. a good read post.Nicely written and well elaborated.

  2. If you are looking for the
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  1. The Pros and Cons of an Artificial Lawn | eecosphere | Articles

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