The world’s leaders (the vast majority of them anyway) have finally come to terms with the dire implications of global warming on the Earth’s climate. With every passing day, the polar ice caps shrink in size, rising sea levels subsume another low-lying island, and the incidence of adverse weather conditions continues to swell. The Paris Agreement of two years ago is evidence of environmental concerns taking precedence on the international stage, but what can we do individually to slow global warming?
Ostensibly a signifier of environmentalism, a lush, natural lawn is, in reality, an energy-hungry indulgence. Many energy-conscious homeowners would actually be better off with an artificial lawn instead, owing to its economical consumption of both energy and water. In creating an artificial surface though, fossil fuels are used, creating carbon in the process. Concerning too is artificial grass’ longevity – it isn’t biodegradable so it can only add to landfill sites. In this post then, we have compared and contrasted natural and artificial grass, with hopes of declaring one environmentally superior. Everything from manufacture to installation to maintenance has been considered, so you can rest assured that our conclusion is a well-rounded and measured one.
In its manufacture, artificial grass takes a decidedly worse toll on the environment than natural grass. As a plastic product made from fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is a by-product of artificial grass manufacture. Carbon dioxide is, of course, is the principal product of combustion of fossil fuels and a contributor to the thinning of the ozone layer Notes 1, and subsequently, one of the main actors in the ever-growing threat of global warming. Natural grass meanwhile, suffers from none of these environmental issues.
Maintenance is the one area where artificial grass comes out on top, and, depending on the importance you place on this aspect of its existence, it may well dictate which grass really is greener. Artificial turf maintenance is almost non-existent. It doesn’t need constant watering; it doesn’t need weedkiller, fertilizer or pesticides. Simply by virtue of not growing, artificial grass can save hundreds of pounds in equipment and energy. The energy committed to operating a lawnmower, strimmer, blower, and scarifier is rendered unnecessary. At its most demanding, artificial grass requires little more than an occasional clearing with a rake – just to keep it clear of debris.
The longevity of artificial grass has negative ramifications for the environment. Non-biodegradable, long after it has outlasted its utility, artificial grass lawns will continue to occupy landfill sites. Contrastingly, a natural grass lawn is, of course, completely biodegradable. Natural grass is also a boon for animals in a way that artificial grass could never be. When an area of natural grass is removed, so too is the habitat of a number of different animals. Mining bees burrow tunnels into the grass (tunnels that allow them to complete their life cycle) while the presence of worms better equips lawns to survive both droughts and heavy rain by providing routes with which a plant’s roots can be supplied with air and water. With the removal of natural grass too, you also lose a consumer of carbon dioxide, further compounding its environmental impact.
All things considered, the two are relatively evenly matched when it comes to environmental impact. Both have areas of strength and areas of weakness. Natural grass, in its beginning and end, is more eco-friendly than artificial grass. Natural grass too provides a home for wildlife while minimizing the environment’s carbon dioxide levels. Artificial grass, however, does excel in areas that natural grass does not. An artificial lawn is miles ahead when it comes to saving water, and the absence of maintenance means it isn’t a constant drain on resources.
- Greenhouse gases like Carbon dioxide wraps the Earth like a blanket. This blanket warms the surface of the Earth. As the concentrations of the greenhouse gases increase, this blanket becomes uncomfortably thicker. In April 2018, the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere hit the highest point for the last 800,000 years. Wrapped now in an even thicker blanket, Earth’s surface warms up, heats the blanket itself, and traps more heat in the lower atmosphere. But, this blanket also prevents heat from moving from the lower atmosphere to the stratosphere, the second major layer of Earth’s atmosphere, just above the troposphere. As a result, the stratosphere gets cooler. Cooling conditions in the upper atmosphere lead to ozone depletion. In other words, greenhouse gases absorb heat at relatively low altitudes and warm the surface, but they have the opposite effect in higher altitudes because they prevent heat from rising.
- “Is There a Connection Between the Ozone Hole and Global Warming?” on the Union of Concerned Scientists website