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Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

By Kim Robson:

For those of us who live in drought-prone areas, having a lush, green lawn is not only a ridiculous luxury, but it comes with a host of requirements including regular mowing, fertilizing, weed-killing, and tons and tons of water. You can opt for a xeriscapeor an edible garden, but for many homeowners with HOA restrictions, having a lawn in the front yard is a requirement. While some HOAs forbid artificial lawns, many do not, and more people are choosing fake grass as the way to go. Let’s cover some of the major pros and cons of artificial lawns, including just how eco-friendly (or not) they are.

PROS:

Needs Virtually Zero Water— Real grass is super thirsty, especially during the spring and summer growing seasons. For those in arid climates, this is the single main advantage and selling point of artificial grass. At most, you may want to hose it down once in a while to rinse off any accumulated soot or dust, or to rinse out any pet urine (although it’s not a good idea to let your pets pee on the fake lawnunless you’ve installed excellent drainage).

Zero Maintenance— Real lawns require equipment to maintain their health and beauty. That means lawn mowers, trimmers, mulchers, chippers, etc. — most of which use of fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases. Artificial grass looks perfect and needs zero trimming from the day of installation, and you can often choose your preferred length, from putting-green velvet to lush two- or three-inch-long play area grass.

Nontoxic— There’s no need for weed killers, pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides to protect an artificial lawn from pests and diseases. This is especially important for pet owners and parents of young children who will be playing in the yard, not to mention what those chemicals do to wildlife and the environment once rainwater runoff finds its way into local water sources like rivers, ponds and streams.

Rainwater Runoff Can Be Captured— Since your fake lawn doesn’t need to absorb any water, it simply drains through the blades, then runs along the ground and eventually into storm sewers. But during installation, homeowners can install an infrastructure to capture that runoff and use it to water other plants and trees.

Highly Versatile— Artificial grass can be used for far more than yards:

  • Beautify a boring concrete balcony or patio
  • Line a pathway or outdoor stairs
  • Create an indoor-outdoor rug for RV or campground entranceway
  • Define children’s play area
  • Outline or underlay roof gardens, sunrooms, greenhouses, container gardens
  • Surround the swimming pool
  • Provide winter pet pee-turf area
  • “Carpet” a garage man cave
  • Floor a showroom/exhibition space

CONS:

Real Grass is Cool (Literally)— There’s nothing like the natural coolness of a green lawn, especially on bare feet. Artificial turf can get awfully hot in the broiling summer sun. In fact, you may need to hose down the fake grass during the summer just to prevent the plastic from getting too hot to walk on.

Non-recyclable— Artificial grass can last for up to 25 years, but once its lifetime is over, it all gets rolled up and sent straight to the landfill. However, some artificial turfs are made with recycled plastic, so the backing/tufting can be melted down to create new products.

Nonliving— Artificial grass doesn’t contribute to its environment in any way. It doesn’t absorb carbon dioxide or release oxygen, nor does it provide habitats for microbes, insects, birds, native plants or other organisms essential to breaking down organic and inorganic matter.

Carbon Footprint— Artificial grass is made from plastic, the manufacturing of which contributes to carbon emissions and the depletion of natural resources. Most fake grass is made overseas, requiring it to be shipped long distances (using fossil fuels).

Soil Damage— Artificial grass installation requires a flat surface. Therefore, your yard will need to be leveled and heavily compacted, using destructive machinery (burning more fossil fuels) which is damaging to the topsoil’s structure and microbial health for the long term. Natural grass sends fine rootlets into crevices of the soil where they add stability and organic matter to the soil.

Special Note for Athletes— The artificial turf used in sports stadiums has been linked to health risks for athletes. Unlike artificial grass designed for private yards, stadium turf is laid over styrene butadiene rubber, or “crumb rubber” — tiny black crumbs made from shredded or pulverized car tires. This rubber infill gives the field more “bounce,” cushioning impacts for athletes and preventing serious injuries like concussions.

But according to Environment & Human Health, Inc.(EHHI), those rubber pellets contain lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and selenium. Stadium infill has been linked to an increased cancer risk for humans when they are exposed to high levels for long periods of time. Recently, some fields covered with artificial turf have been closed due to concerns over high levels of lead as well as toxic runoff when the fields drain after a heavy rain, leaching lead into ground and drinking water.

In addition, artificial stadium turf is associated with an increased risk of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. MRSA is highly dangerous because of its resistance to many antibiotics, and can lead to potentially fatal pneumonia, sepsis and bloodstream infections. The risk comes from bacteria infiltrating open skin lesions (aka “turf burns”) caused by the skin’s being abraded or torn from sliding on artificial turf. As a result, artificial turf is often treated with antimicrobial and antibacterial chemical biocides. Stadium turf is also treated with two different chemical fire retardants— “flame guard” infill pellets (installed as a thin top-dressing layer to achieve a Class 1 rating for fire retardance) and fire retardant artificial grass fibers in the grass itself.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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