Which Grass is Greener? Comparing Natural and Artificial Turf
Turf grass is ubiquitous in America, covering roadsides, parks, cemeteries, golf courses, and more than 50 million residential yards. Most experts believe that turf covers more than 30 million acres (12 million ha) of American ground, an area larger than the state of Pennsylvania. Lawns make popular common spaces, encouraging community interaction and recreation, and they lend a sense of order and even status to our homes and businesses. A 1986 Gallup survey, widely cited in the landscaping industry, found that manicured landscaping, including lawns, adds nearly 15% to the value of American homes. But creating and maintaining turf grass carries serious environmental burdens related to irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide use, and regular mowing. “In most places flawless carpets of green simply cannot be grown in an environmentally benign manner,” says Chris Reuther of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.
The environmental and financial cost of maintaining lawns has a lot of the country searching for alternatives. Some are turning to hardscapes, native plantings, or xeriscaping, choosing plant species that naturally require little water and maintenance. (For more on native landscaping, see
Vol. 6, No. 8.) Others are wedded to the look of the traditional lawn. What if there were a way to have your lush, green turf and enjoy it too? What if I told you your lawn could stay green without irrigation? Without pesticides or fertilizers? Without even mowing? What would you say to that? “What’s the hitch?” probably. Well, the hitch is that your lawn wouldn’t actually be alive; it would be made of plastic. Plastic? (Some readers may be wondering whether
EBN has gone mad.)
Artificial turf is big business these days. Early adopters of plastic grass were professional sports teams, who had the cash to spend on the newest technologies. Artificial turf continues to replace natural playing fields not just for the pros but for college-level athletes and Little Leaguers alike. And it doesn’t stop there. Artificial turf is replacing grass in a variety of applications, ranging from community parks to parking-lot medians, and even outside American homes. Plastic grass sidesteps many of natural turf’s downsides, but could it possibly be greener than grass itself? This article looks at both natural and artificial turf through an environmental lens.