Kill Your Lawn
From Environmental Disaster to Ecological and Food-Security Solution
A European innovation during the 16th Century, lawns became popular and sustainable in that rainy, moist climate. Unfortunately however, they also became popular in warmer and drier places like North America. The early lawn mowers, sheep, kept the lawns cropped short and fertilized while saving the shepherd’s time. Modern lawn mowers produce 11 times more pollution per hour than a modern car, use1.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year, and emit 41 billion pounds of CO2 per year in the USA alone. A mower used for one hour has a carbon footprint equal to a 100 mile journey by car, a leaf blower's footprint for 30 minutes equals a 700 mile trip.1 Even just the filling of lawn mowers with gas has horrible consequences: spilling an estimated 17 million gallons of gas each year. (The Exxon Valdez oil spill was less than 11 million gallons.)1
More negative consequences come from the fossil fuel transportation-pollution costs, the yard wastes responsible for using an estimated 50% of our landfills (14.4 million tons/year), and the greenhouse gas, methane coming from this grass anaerobically decomposing in landfills.1
Commercial lawns - America’s largest irrigated crop - claim 3 times more acres than US-grown corn and the average city uses between 30 and 60% of its water on lawns. The first US golf course was built in 1888. The popularity of lawn bowling and golf then grew quickly, claiming ever increasing land, strongly establishing this environmentally disastrous habit. Most suburbs that began construction during the 1950's required homeowners to maintain, but not fence, grass lawns. Current estimates are that lawn maintenance in the USA uses 90 million pounds of chemicals and 78 million pounds of pesticides each year.2 The exorbitant use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers that pollute our groundwater, rivers and lakes add to the list of important reasons to eliminate lawns as much as possible.
Of course, lawns have a valid benefit for schools and playgrounds, and in backyards with small children. We design and supply subsurface irrigation systems that go under turf and use a tiny fraction of the amount of water used in typical grass irrigation systems.
A symbol for the American dream, we have a somewhat unconscious, cultural prejudice for showing off green, vibrant, unused grass lawns.3 However, we can no longer afford this huge expenditure of natural resources for ornamental and game-playing activities. The worst offender, golf, advertises over 9000 courses in the US., each one taking away 150 acres from more beneficial purposes while using on average 2.08 billion gallons of water per day.4 While water shortages in more and more places dramatically increase the threat to even basic food security for many, according to a NASA researcher, our average water use per person for irrigating lawns could be repurposed to provide clean drinking water for more than 200 people per day.2
- Grass Lawns are an Ecological Catastrophe
- The American lawn: Is the grass always greener? – NU Sci Magazine
- The American Obsession with Lawns - Scientific American Blog Network
- How Much Water Does a Golf Course Use? – TWL Irrigation