Artificial Turf Versus Real Grass: Which Is Greener?
Could TreeHuggers soon be hugging a fake tree or idly philosophizing on artificial turf meadows? More than 225 million square feet of artificial turf have been produced since the plastic carpet debuted and named at the Houston Astrodome. And the field becomes overcrowded with competitors. More and more people claim that artificial turf is environmentally friendly. Is it possible? Is it true?
Mother Nature vs. Technology
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Mother nature takes in carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, as well as some micronutrients, and makes strands out of natural, green grass. How natural? Well, none of the grasses normally grown on North American lawns developed there. Even Kentucky bluegrass is an import, according to the book Turf Wars.
Scientists took carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen and made nylon. The other typical raw material for artificial turf is polyethylene, which consists only of carbon and hydrogen. Artificial grass doesn’t suffer from chlorine like PVC, so score a science score.
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Sun, rain and dirt … that’s all mother nature needs. Or is it? Most of the lawns are overwatered, fertilized and covered with pesticides. Fertilizers unbalance other living systems when they drain, and pesticides …
But all is not well on the wrong green side. Artificial turf does not have the natural cleaning and renewal mechanisms that the natural variety does. So the question of hygiene arises especially with children or sweaty athletes. Many synthetic grasses have antimicrobial components. Astroturf, for example, has exclusive use of the antimicrobial AlphaSan® protection from Milliken. AlphaSan® is silver sodium hydrogen zirconium phosphate, but any silver-based antimicrobial agent poses similar problems.
According to Milliken, the antimicrobial effectiveness of AlphaSan® is based on the release of silver ions. Such antimicrobial agents are so safe for humans that they are even approved for food contact applications. Tests even show that it is safe for birds and mammals. But silver ions are very toxic in the aquatic environment and have the potential to bioaccumulate.
Manufacturers will surely protest that the rate of release of silver ions is very low and that the antimicrobial chemical is firmly embedded in the plastic polymer. But since silver ions are found in carpets, appliances, cleaning products, and even your socks, the effects of increasing amounts of silver in product cycles at the end of life are sure to raise concerns about silver biocides.
In addition, waste from the chemical manufacturing processes for artificial turf must be taken into account. Rate the game “rained out”. It takes a much more thorough lifecycle analysis than the scope of this article to judge the winner of this argument.
Grass decomposes; Artificial grass, not that much
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At the end of its lifespan, grass decomposes and returns to natural cycles. Wrong grass usually ends up in the landfill. It rests there pretty harmlessly, forever, which doesn’t seem so ideal. Does that give Mother Nature the advantage? Wait, not so fast. Lawn is only composted via the lawnmower, usually at the expense of disproportionate emissions. Perhaps it is possible that plastic grass will have less of a negative impact on the environment.
End of life?
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But what about the other living things? If they could speak, they would surely vote against the plastic alternative. And maybe we’re asking the wrong questions. Who needs grass Why not a wildflower garden, cactus rock garden, or some other landscape that blends in with the natural surroundings? With a small piece of organic grass held in check by the scythe. Where have I put my garden clogs now?