Can Artificial Grass ever be better for the Environment?
Let’s make no mistake; the argument that artificial grass can ever be better for the environment than the real thing is a hard sell. Comparing a plastic imitation with something that occurs naturally, and has done for millions of years, it is tempting for many to simply write the whole debate off before even assessing the facts.
In this article I’d like to put down some of these facts and whilst I make no claims that artificial grass is going to save the planet, I do hope to show you that the environmental debate concerning artificial grass isn’t as black and white as you may think.
One of the most common myths in this debate is that natural grass must be better for the environment because grass occurs naturally in the environment. It’s extremely important to distinguish from the outset, the difference between the merits of something ‘occurring naturally in the environment’ and something that has ‘environmental benefits’. Solar panels don’t occur naturally in the environment but they are environmentally beneficial when compared to the burning of fossil fuels.
Our gardens are not naturally occurring parts of the environment (despite how beautiful they often are) but often require a lot of watering to keep them looking lush and green.This need for water can have a huge impact on water tables as the UK increasingly experiences more droughts as a result of climate change.
As we shall see, our world’s changing climate is having a profound effect on how we view our green spaces, both private and public, as naturally environmentally friendly spaces. Climate change is a global problem and with unprecedented droughts in places like California last few years, more and more people are beginning to see artificial grass as the only true environmentally friendly alternative to their water-guzzling real lawns.
The use of artificial grass as an alternative to traditional sports pitches is another issue that will continue to divide opinion. But as water becomes more of a precious commodity in our world, our belief that grass exacts no cost to the wider environment will become an outdated notion. Like it or not, in twenty years, water will be a lot scarcer and watching Premiership football games on astroturf could be the norm.
One of the most misunderstood aspects of climate change is that a warming global climate will just cause hotter summers and milder winters. This is a misunderstanding of the phenomenon, which can cause all sorts of unpredictable and extreme weather events. One that we have witnessed on unprecedented scale and regularity recently in this country is flooding. Ironic as it sounds then, one of the other major problems with real grass lawns is actually having too much water.
For artificial grass, this is as much a practical issue as it is anything fundamentally beneficial to the environment. Real grass lawns don’t copy well to being submerged entirely in water whereas fake grass lawns do not absorb water in the same way and so don’t become muddy bogs and are far easier to drain. In fact it is the lack of mud entirely that many owners of artificial grass cite as one of the products main selling points (especially those with children).
Biodiversity is undoubtedly the main criticism levelled against artificial grass’s environmental record and it does carry weight. It is true that natural grass encourages biodiversity and the fake stuff doesn’t. The main rebuttal to this criticism comes down to the fact that real grass often requires products that aren’t good for the environment such as pesticides and the use of energy to maintain it, in the form of electricity or diesel for mowers and trimmers. Many pesticides can even find their way into the water table.
Of course artificial grass gardens don’t preclude flower beds, which in turn can sustain a rich and diverse amount of wildlife such as bees and other pollinating insects.
We all love our gardens, but the environment is a complex and intricately interconnected place that is changing more rapidly than we’ve ever known it to. A reduction of worms, and as a consequence birds, in our gardens as a result of artificial grass usage might well seem like a catastrophic event to many, but if we compare this to the strain put on our dwindling water tables by millions of gardens up and down the country, the picture becomes more confusing.
As much as we love our lawns, the external consequences of grass’s insatiable need for water may in fact be more damaging than we realise as droughts become more commonplace.
The debate in the UK surrounding the use of artificial grass in our gardens is undeniably divisive, but this is of little surprise given how we still consider ourselves a nation of gardeners.Given our love for these, our own private green idylls, it’s easy to forget that the world doesn’t stop at our fence post.
Whilst artificial grass may feel by nature so unenvironmental to so many committed organic gardeners, it’s important to remember that the fake stuff doesn’t require watering… ever. And in thirty years, when water shortages are part of our everyday lives and consecutive droughts have made many of our gardens unrecognisable, I suspect that this fact may well have changed the nature of this debate beyond all recognition.
Author Bio: Anthony Gallagher is Managing Director of Easigrass, the UK’s largest stockist of artificial grass with franchisees throughout the country. You can connect with Easigrass on Twitter, Facebook or find out more by visiting their YouTube channel.