The horrific truths about artificial grass

fake grass

Why would anyone replace a key sustainable component of our living environment with a coal and oil-derived product, one of only limited life span and almost impossible to recycle? When the entire planet is waging war on unnecessary plastics and the climate emergency, what is it that persuades consumers to make this terrible choice? And why cover children’s sports fields in products that can harm their health? Why on earth does anyone choose artificial grass? And why does the Government do nothing about it?

The reason is threefold: 1) skilful marketing, 2) the absence of product and consumer information, and 3) the lack of industry and product regulation. It doesn’t matter where your priorities lie, from saving the planet to saving your pennies; seen from any angle this is clearly a scandal.  So, before it is too late, we must dig deeper and expose the murky truths behind this phenomenon – and help stem a slowly emerging environmental disaster. Let’s address the three areas of blame in turn starting with marketing, a brilliant lesson in consumer exploitation – and an opportunity to debunk some untruths.

How do you market an unsustainable product and promote the destruction of the living environment? You do it by being economic with your information. People want convenience, and so that’s how the industry sells it. “Why not replace the chore of lawn care with a maintenance-free alternative?” they ask. People want to be responsible too, so they also ask: “And why not help save the planet by getting rid of your petrol mower?” But translate this into straight talking and you get: “Why not replace nature’s lungs with a petro-chemical product that damages rather than helps the environment, a product that does indeed require maintenance and will need replacing every ten years or so?”

Of course, if it was called by the accurate name, plastic grass, sales would plummet. And if buyers saw the growing mountains of worn-out plastic turf accumulating in landfill around the world, they would certainly hesitate. So, these topics are carefully avoided. And you cannot miss the irony of their “environmental” message; just like petrol, plastic grass is an end product of the coal and oil industry, using plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon. So, whether selling plastic grass or a tank of petrol, it’s all good business for the industries profiting from fossil fuels.

Promoters of plastic grass even say that it is ‘maintenance free’. This is simply not true unless you are happy to have a growing build-up of excrement and urine from birds, dogs, mice, etc not to mention self-seeding grasses and weeds. And your plastic grass will certainly need cleaning, and as you hose it down (using more water than is necessary to keep a real lawn alive), think of the chemical cocktail leaching into the ground. And get this; you may also need to treat your artificial grass against moss! So much for maintenance-free.

How plastic grass damages your health

Alongside rising temperatures, the next most serious crisis we battle is air quality. A living grass lawn absorbs pollutants and CO2 from the air and, like any plant, exudes breathable oxygen. Replacing it with plastic grass simply removes this natural – and essential – contributor to our health. 

What about humidity? Given the choice, would you rather spend a few summer hours with some natural moisture rising from your feet or baking from the dry heat reflected and generated by the plastics? Your lungs will tell you soon enough if you’re not sure.

Worst of all, is a very sinister danger that still does not receive a fraction of the attention it deserves – the use of crumb rubber to dress artificial sports turf (the same toxic material that all our children are playing on at schools). The idea is that it helps keep the fake grass  upright and cushions the blows when you fall. But there are tragic stories of children dying from the effects of inhaling this noxious substance made from old car tyres. Yet unsuspecting parents, trusting their local authorities, schools or sports clubs, allow their children to play on this, unaware that the grains caught in clothing and inhaled during play can be extremely dangerous.

So why are people buying it? Well, they’re not told the truth – it’s as simple as that. 

Consumers today want information – but paradoxically this can make them more ready to believe what they are told, whatever the source. And sadly only a few relevant facts ever appear in marketing or even horticultural texts. Here’s an example. “Plus, with artificial grass there’s no watering or feeding required so it’s kinder to the environment.”  This crass statement comes from a UK supplier of fake grass – and is their ONLY comment relating to the environment. It’s incomplete and misleading, it shows how far the industry falls below this standard. Consumers are entitled to accurate information.

So, before I risk my blood pressure, and to address the lack of consumer information, here are just a few quickfire facts about plastic vs real grass:

  • Real grass captures CO2. Plastic grass generates colossal CO2 in its manufacture.
  • Real grass cools the surrounding areas. Plastic grass heats up in hot weather to intolerable temperatures, especially for small children and pets
  • Real grass can survive even a summer drought without watering. Plastic grass requires regular hosing down.
  • Real grass lawns last for many decades ! Plastic grass wears out after a few years. 
  • Real grass sustains biodiversity. Plastic grass creates no-go zones for wildlife.

All in all, there is very little to condone the use of plastic grass. It was one of those ‘great ideas’ when still at the drawing board, a very profitable convenience solution for our modern times. But now you can see why it should never have left the drawing board. Yet it has, and people are buying it in growing numbers.

So, I hope that reassures you that your interest in and care for lawns is both well-founded and of real value to the environmental health of this country.  Congratulations and thank you!