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Artificial Grass: Bad News for People and the Planet

First created for large playing fields, artificial grass can now be found in a whole range of businesses, schools, public roof terraces and private gardens. With more people aspiring to minimal maintenance lawns, the astroturf market has seen a huge increase. In fact it’s projected to reach 7 billion pounds by 2025.

But is it a good idea to be laying plastic all over our towns and cities? Aside from the fact it looks a little odd, there are many reasons astroturf is best avoided. From the effects on our health to biodiversity and heat waves, we look at all the implications.

What Are the Health Hazards of Artificial Grass?

  • Astroturf is a much harder surface to play on than grass. In fact, many professional football players agree that artificial turf surfaces cause more stress on their joints, resulting in more ACL injuries and ankle sprains.

  • Recent studies have found the presence of PFAs in the blades and backing of astroturf – chemicals that have been linked to lower childhood immunity, endocrine disruption and cancer. (These can be picked up through skin contact with the turf itself or through inhalation.)

  • During heatwaves, artificial lawns can get hotter than bitumen and concrete. They emit an unpleasant smell of melting plastic, become unsafe to walk or sit on, and they can burn your pets’ paws. Recent heat waves even led some schools to close, as the artificial turf in the playground reached 50ºC – a considerable burn risk.

What are the Environmental Hazards of Artificial Grass?

Urban heat is exacerbated:
  • While vegetation keeps areas cool by releasing water, there is no cooling effect with plastic, cement or gravel gardens. Plastic lawns can actually increase land surface temperatures by 40% or more.

Biodiversity is lost:
  • Astroturf takes up space where vegetation could be grown, removing the natural habitats of worms, insects, bees and pollinators.

  • Over time, all the air in the soil underneath is replaced with water. This damages soil quality and kills off essential microorganisms.

  • Small pieces often break off artificial lawns, contaminating the water, soil and other lifeforms with microplastics.

Flooding increases:
  • Whereas natural planting allows water to drain through the soil, hard surfaces like artificial grass cause runoff, which contributes to flooding risks. (Although water can drain through some astroturf, it is much less effective than real grass as the ground underneath always needs to be compacted.)

A huge carbon footprint:
  • Consider how much a pitch of artificial grass weighs and the fossil fuels that are needed to make all that plastic. Even if it is transported and used efficiently, the production of so much plastic still has a negative impact on the environment.

  • Despite manufacturers claiming they last for 10 – 20 years, artificial lawns often have an even shorter shelf life, starting to look bad after just a few years. Often, they are replaced with the same again and the cycle continues.

More plastic waste:
  • Sadly, artificial lawns are almost impossible to recycle. If you wanted to recycle one you’d have to pre clean it, find a specialised recycling facility, then pay to send it there yourself. No easy task. (Not to mention the fact that many turf types can’t be recycled.)

What is Astroturf Maintenance Like?

Artificial lawns may be marketed as being 'almost maintenance free', but they actually need some rather painstaking upkeep.

  • Whereas a natural lawn recycles germs and other debris, astroturf needs to be cleaned, often with specialised cleaning products to get rid of smells and stains. Depending on where it is, you may even have to vacuum the turf to get rid of leaves or water it to cool it down. With all that considered, real grass is actually much cheaper to buy and maintain.

  • And if a dog does their business on your plastic lawn? Well that’s an extra job for you.

Apart from the potential health hazards, the negative effects on urban heat, biodiversity, and flooding, as well as their huge carbon footprint, artificial lawns rob us of something else: the joy of sitting on a lawn, feet bare, delighting in nature.

On the flipside, grass lawns or other natural planting sequesters carbon, increases oxygen and keeps our cities safe and cool. The choice should be easy.

What You Can Do:

1. Campaign:
  • Spread the word. If someone you know is considering artificial grass, share your knowledge. If your company or local organisation has some, get in touch.

  • Sign this open letter asking for a ban on artificial grass. Tweet your MP and report any greenwashing. Let’s copy cities like Quebec who prohibit plastic grass already.

  • Lobby Sports organisations like UEFA, and NFL to ban astroturf. The RHS and Landscape have already banned artificial grass from their shows. Let’s get others to follow suit.

2. Be safe:
  • Avoid artificial grass on very hot days.

  • Don’t eat and drink on astroturf or play on it with bare feet. And wash hands after play.

3. Look into alternatives:
  • If real lawn isn’t right for you, there are plenty of great alternatives. Try no-mow plants like moss or thyme, or choose a combination of plants and stone paving, decking, gravel or bark chip.

  • If you need a garden to be accessible to wheelchair users or during wet weather, lay paths and patios around natural plants.


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