I’ve heard about artificial grass as a water-saving alternative to real grass, but if it's plastic, is the fake stuff really eco-friendly?
– Randi, San Diego
The short answer: Artificial turf is not a good alternative, even in arid Southern California, where you’re writing from. What is? Taking our cue from nature. More and more people are rewilding their yards and landscaping with native plants. If you’re living in an arid climate, use native, drought-resistant plants or even create a rock garden. Bluedot San Diego’s resident gardener can show you how.
At first glance, artificial turf sure seems like a good alternative to thirsty grass lawns. Besides saving water, you’re avoiding the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and avoiding pollution from lawn mowers. (Another plus is that you free up your weekends from lawn maintenance.) But you’re right to wonder if this is all too good to be true. Unfortunately, there’s growing evidence that a fake green lawn isn’t so green at all.
For one thing, Randi, artificial turf offers no benefit to wildlife. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Worse, it can disrupt the ecosystem by degrading the soil below and preventing future plant growth. It also blocks access to soil for insects and worms, separating them from the food sources they need to survive, thrive, and contribute to a healthy ecosystem.
But that’s not all that’s bad about fake turf, Randi!
According to the fierce nature-loving folks at the Sierra Club, “Synthetic turf fields have a large carbon footprint, and their toxic substances end up as ‘forever waste.’ Greenhouse gasses ethylene and methane are emitted from the plastic carpets continuously throughout their lifespan. Children face unique risks from toxins, heat, hardness and abrasions playing on plastic fields …”
Children, Randi! Do we really want little kids playing on this stuff? Isn’t there enough plastic in their lives?
A 2018 report by the European Commission found that artificial sports fields shed between 18,000 to 70,000 tons of microplastics each year. Yes, I know your yard is a fraction of the size of a sports field, but it will still leach a lot of microplastics into the environment. These particles make their way into the surrounding soil, water, and even air. Studies have also found toxic forever chemicals in artificial turf, including PFAS, which do not break down and have been associated with a number of diseases, including an increased risk of testicular and kidney cancers.
Still, Randi, it’s reasonable to be concerned about the water that a traditional lawn requires to look good. Nationwide, according to the EPA, we Americans use nine billion gallons of water daily. And half of that is wasted, thanks to inefficient watering systems. (One of Dot’s pet peeves is people watering their sidewalks!) Clearly, artificial turf is not a good alternative, even in arid Southern California, where you’re writing from. What is? Taking our cue from nature. More and more people are rewilding their yards and landscaping with native plants. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a culture shift. We are long accustomed to seeing a bed of green as the height of beauty — rewilding definitely requires a new lens. If you’re living in an arid climate, use native, drought-resistant plants or even create a rock garden. Bluedot San Diego’s resident gardener can show you how.
Embrace the wild, Randi. The once-ideal manicured lawn is overdone anyway.