I always thought that a simple equation for living green was thus: Fake = bad; real = good. For example, fake food (Twinkies), bad; real food (apples), good. Simple, right? Turns out … not so much.
Friends from Northern California recently announced that they were installing fake grass at their new home. I was aghast. While my East Coast sensibility chalked it up to some “California” thing, I nonetheless tried to steer them away from what I assumed was the purchase of a petroleum-based product masquerading as Mother Nature’s own lush green carpet.
But my friends were convinced of not only the aesthetic appeal of their faux grass (check out the look of the artificial turf in the photo above), but also the eco-friendliness of it.
Perplexed, I did a little digging. And what I unearthed has turned this treehugger into a … well … a treehugger who just might hug fake trees, too.
Turns out our lawns — even our occasionally yellowish-brown organically grown lawns, take their toll on Mother Earth’s resources. And those of us (well, not me) who rely on sprinkler systems and (gasp!) fertilizers and pesticides create lawn disorder that makes Mother Nature blanch.
What’s not green about grass?
- Lawns are the single most irrigated crop in America, requiring three times more water than corn crops. (And we all know how ubiquitous corn has become!)
- While lawns do absorb CO2, scientists say it’s not enough to offset the amount of water grass gulps annually — close to 22,000 gallons per lawn.
- All this water has the intended effect of making the grass grow. Which means it requires cutting. Most of us rely on standard two-stroke gas lawn mowers, which — get this! — release the same amount of air pollutants in one hour as driving a car 375 miles. Multiply that by the 54 million Americans that are estimated to be mowing their lawns this weekend and, if you’re the Environmental Protection Agency, you’ll come up with a figure that holds these mowers responsible for roughly 5 percent of the nation’s air pollution. That’s a whole lotta dirty air.
Still, the manufacture of artificial turf must surely wreak eco-havoc of its own, insists my fake = bad mindset.
Well, yes. But these lawns will last anywhere from 15 years to 30 years. With no water or mowing.
Fake grass’s green-ness depends partly on which blades you switch to
Most artificial turf is made of polyethylene — which isn’t necessarily “good” but is better than alternatives. It doesn’t contain heavy metals like synthetic lawns made with rubber tire pellets do, and it’s more recyclable than fake grass made with polypropylene. Some companies offer free polyethylene grass recycling, should you ever part ways with your plastic lawn. (Check out Earth911’s finder tools for hard-to-recycle items.)
Of course I still find myself musing, “But it’s … fake!” As in UN-natural! But fake, it seems, is the new green on the block. Just think! No grass stains to challenge my eco-friendly detergent. No grubs to taunt my natural pesticides. No mowing.
I’ve certainly had my eco-predilections challenged … though, for now at least, I think I’ll stick with the real thing. Maybe I’ll get a push mower …