A recent Courier-Mail article entitled ‘Households using fake grass on their lawns to avoid mowing’ caught my eye. Agreed – we all lead busier lives than those of generations before us but are we really prepared to give up something as fulfilling as our children’s real backyards for the sake of a little time and maintenance.
The positives of having an artificial lawn are undeniable – less maintenance, no bindies, weeds or ants. It’s not itchy and it doesn’t need watering. While popular for some time in the southern states, fake lawn is increasing in popularity in our neck of the woods with some artificial lawn suppliers servicing Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast suggesting that artificial lawns for households now make up 65% of their business and is increasing at a rate of 10-15%. But I would like to issue some words of warning.
My main concern with this trend surrounds the products themselves. While we just don’t know what many artificial lawns on the market are made up of and therefore the long term effects they may have. Greens MP, Cate Faehrmann has called on the Government for a moratorium until the health impacts of these products is understood, ‘It’s even more worrying when we don’t know what the products are made out of…How can we begin to understand the health impacts if we don’t know which chemicals we are exposing our kids to?’. These products need to be tested to ensure that they are safe, particularly for children who are known to be more susceptible to hazardous materials due to their size, developmental stage and hand-to-mouth activity.
While the artificial ‘lawn’ that you stand on may be an issue it is also what lies beneath it that may be causing harm. In many instances the rubber underlay is actually toxic. Much of the infill used is ‘crumbed rubber’ – a product made from recycled car tyres and which may contain traces of heavy metals such as cadmium and zinc. So concerned was the Swedish Government that they banned its use. There are now cases where the concern is so great that sand is being used instead however, this makes the surface hard – harder than for a natural lawn.
And then there are the problems that the weather can cause. Artificial lawns, particularly in climates like South-East Queensland, can heat up quite dramatically – much higher than that of a natural lawn and sometimes three times the temperature of the air around the lawn (in fact, some research suggests it may actually be up to 30 times higher).
This higher temperature can increase the risk of injuries such as burns and heat stress. The humidity and sometimes high rainfall can also cause the lawn to go mouldy and that is yet another health issue to be considered.
Other issues surrounding the use of artificial lawn rather than a natural turf are:
- Crumbed rubber and fragmented plastic particles can end up in the surrounding soil, drains and waterways;
- Since an artificial lawn maintains no bio-degradable process – food, blood, urine, vomit and animal faeces remain in the lawn and should be neutralised by disinfecting. This just adds a different maintenance cost requirement to the lawn;
- The issue remains of what to do with the artificial lawn when it is no longer required. If it is not possible for it to be recycled then it will end up adding to the already growing problem of landfill.
And it is not just in our own backyards where the debate of real lawn vs fake is being played out. Many child care centres, schools, parks and sporting fields have laid artificial lawns to increase the amount of time that the lawn can be utilised as well as reducing the maintenance costs, but at what cost? Some groups are now so concerned about the potential hazards of an artificial lawn that they are now pulling up the artificial lawn or are not laying it in the first place.
For the time spent mowing and maintaining a real lawn and the hassle of some ants, I believe that the advantages of a natural turf far outweigh the current and potential hazards of an artificial one. And with turf such as Sir Walter soft leaf available that is hard wearing, low maintenance and with zero weeds – why wouldn’t you lay a natural lawn?