Artificial Turf – Why It’s Not an Alternative

| Turf Conversion

by Deb Lebow Aal

I am seeing more and more folks opting for artificial turf. Some have said to me that it’s a great option for the Front Range as it does not require water. I realize there are many people out there who want a no maintenance yard – and not just low maintenance, but NO maintenance. First, unless you pave over your yard (really not a good idea), there is no such thing as a no maintenance yard. I have seen unmaintained patches of artificial turf, and they are weedy messes as pictured below.

weedy mess of artificial grass
weedy mess of artificial grass

Here are some of the reasons that artificial turf (also known as ‘plastic lawn’ or ‘fake grass’) is not a good alternative as a lawn: 

  • It’s lifeless: Replacing natural vegetation with plastic contributes to the immense loss of biodiversity and habitat for insects, birds, etc. 
  • It gets really hot and can burn the feet of dogs and barefoot children, and can actually melt in really high temperatures, which we are experiencing more and more. You actually have to water them to cool them down.
  • It needs special cleaning products to get rid of smells and stains, like dog urine. 
  • It’s energy intensive being made from a coal and/or oil derived product.
  • It’s not easily recycled. In fact, probably not recyclable at all.
  • It contributes to the heat-island effect of urban areas. It does not cool an area down, like natural vegetation does.
  • It may pollute water: I don’t have proof of this, but since it is a plastic product, I have read that it breaks down into micro-plastic beads and enters into our waters, and then into fish, etc.
  • It may contribute to water runoff issues. I know that many artificial turf options are porous so that water can sink in below the turf, but I have seen people put a concrete layer underneath the turf, to reduce the weed issue, which is the worst of all worlds. Instead of keeping the little water we get on your vegetation, it runs off, collecting road and other contaminants as it goes.

I have seen articles where criticism of artificial turf is paired with gravel. They equate the two, saying that both materials are heating up already hot urban areas. But I take issue with this. Pea gravel as mulch has been shown to be a wonderful mulch for native plants, keeping their roots cooler and wetter. While the top of the gravel does get hot, the soil underneath (and therefore the roots of the plants) stay cool. That is not true of plastic turf.

So, if your neighbor starts talking about putting in a plastic lawn, gently talk about the pitfalls of this rather lousy idea. Many cities have banned artificial turf. It might be time for cities along the Front Range to do the same.

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