Artificial grass, it's been around for a very long time in a few countries, but it is only now that it is being heavily marketed and sold in Australia. But is replacing our lawns with plastic grass really worth it? Despite the spin, these products really are not environmentally friendly at all. Still, these products may be suitable in limited areas.
Our lawn is a very large, live plant, and as our memories of Grade 1 Primary School quickly remind us, plants convert gasses, including carbon dioxide into clean fresh air - oxygen. Due to it's large size and masses of green leaf, our lawns are vitally important partners to clean our air in the cities we live in.
Our lawns create thousands or millions of times more fresh air year round than mowing the lawn pollutes the air once every few weeks.
Lawns also substantially reduce the temperature of the homes they surround, reducing the demand for power and air conditioning.
Not only this, but our wonderful lawns also play a massive role in the overall eco-system of our cities. Providing homes for bugs and micro-organisms in the soil, and a few weed flowers which help the bees, and it all comes together with birds benefiting from these things, and the butterflies we love to see. A lawn is only one part of the ecosystems of our cities, but a vitally important one which works in unison with the rest of the remaining natural world around us to make our cities more liveable.
Just imagine how awful our city lives would become if we started killing off all our lawns, plants, gardens and trees.
Our lawns also provide so many human benefits, that they are impossible to count, play areas for children, relaxation for adults, barbecue and social areas, a place for the kids swings and the very essence of every garden which provides us our relaxation and satisfaction we get from our homes and gardens.
And all of these things are lost when we put down plastic grass.
The ads for plastic grass tell us that we won't waste water or pollute the environment with lawn mowing if we replace our lawn with artificial grass. While it seems to make initial sense, this is not true.
In comparison, a plastic grass surface provides nothing to the environment, it cleans no pollution from the air, helps to destroy the ecosystem by depriving it of natural integration and limiting the size of the ecosystem.
Artificial lawn is laid on top of a hard base of a compacted subsurface, including crushed rock. The area is very hard to walk on, and cannot be played on by children. It's a horrible experience to sit on, and overall provides no functionality or purpose other than to stop adults from relaxing on the lawn and to stop kids playing outside. It's also a horrible experience for anyone with pets.
Anyone with dogs or cats will also know that our pets use our lawns as a natural tonic for their health. Plastic lawn can also be highly irritating to some people, can cause injury, including friction burns if falling onto it's hard surface.
If the area does not have proper drainage or sits in too much shade, then the fake lawn will develop moss, or get waterlogged and begin to rot, which will make the area slippery, totally unusable and very dangerous.
Artificial lawn can also develop weeds between it's fibres which will need to be dealt with.
Fake grass is in essence just a large plastic rug carpet which we leave sitting outside year round. It will get dirty and a lot of organic material will build up in it's fibres over time. As well as this, the fibres will become permanently squashed down over time.
This requires maintenance.
The artificial turf will need to be regularly vacuumed as the only way to remove the organic debris, which requires the use of a petrol or electric powered outside vacuum to be purchased and then energy used to power it, Essentially swapping a lawn mower for a vacuum with no environmental benefit given by a real lawn.
The plastic grass will also get dirty and require cleaning. This requires a lot of hard work, lots of chemicals and water and another machine to do the cleaning with.
As the fake turf gets walked on, over time it will become compacted and look rather messy and awful. This problem can be repaired, but requires the use of a special machine with a spinning brush which will lift up the plastic fibres into an upright position again, and contractors who own these machines are extremely rare.
Plastic grass is still plastic, and we all know what happens to plastic when it is permanently exposed to the open weather. It begins to break down and deteriorate. Within a year of being laid, artificial grass will begin to break down and deteriorate. Leaching tiny plastic particles into the environment. This ongoing chemical pollution will continue for years until the artificial lawn has rotted away to the point that no longer looks any good and requires total replacement. With the remaining masses of plastic to be thrown away into land fill.
Don't believe the ads - plastic grass is a lot of hard work, requires ongoing expense and management, and causes great environmental damage.
The best place that can be judged to be useful for plastic grass is on only the tiniest of areas which will never have a function for human contact, and the only place where this is worthwhile is on a tiny verge, usually less than 10 m2. That's it.
But yet an even better solution for these areas would be to plant the areas with some seasonal flowers or another low maintenance ground cover such as Dichondra.