As more people prioritise the environment over fast fashion and throwaway plastics, the campaign to stamp out unsustainable fake grass is gathering pace. Championing this movement is the UK’s most historic supplier of lawn seed, Johnsons Lawn Seed, which has over 200 years’ experience making Britain a greener and more beautiful place.
Ranged against environmentalists and lovers of the real green stuff are the last remaining enthusiasts of fake grass, who can stop kidding themselves that there is anything ‘eco-friendly’ about the metres of plastic that some like to cover their outdoor spaces with.
A growing number of campaigners are asking for plastic grass to be taxed or even banned, because of their detrimental effects on the environment. Dr Mark Gush, Head of Environmental Horticulture for the Royal Horticultural Society, said in an interview with Channel 4 News that:
“Artificial grass is fundamentally bad for the environment because it results in loss of habitat in gardens. We need all the habitat we can get to support biodiversity and combat the climate crisis, and by putting down plastic grass you are removing the potential of that garden space to deliver other beneficial environmental services.”
It is estimated that more than eight million square metres of plastic grass are still sold annually in the UK and - with dozens of artificial grass suppliers falsely claiming that their products are recyclable and environmentally friendly.
In November 2022, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), in response to a complaint by Plastics Rebellion, instructed suppliers of artificial grass to stop describing their product as “environmentally friendly”. The complaint was upheld, with the result that fake grass producers must now review use of the term “environmentally friendly”.
The ASA also confirmed that: “the extraction of raw materials and subsequent processing of those materials in order to produce artificial grass [have] a negative impact on the environment”. Tonnes of plastic grass are burnt in the UK as there are no recycling facilities here. It doesn’t matter if something is recyclable in principle; what matters is if there are facilities to recycle it. If these facilities don’t yet exist, this product isn’t currently recyclable.
Johnsons Lawn Seed is in full agreement with the ASA ruling and is stepping up its long-standing campaign to raise awareness about unsustainable plastic grass and the negative impact it has on our environment. Ranged against this negative plastic load is the joy of real grass, which has an arsenal of environmental benefits that range from flood resistance and cooling properties during heatwaves, to support for pollinating insects and CO2 capture.
Whilst some artificial grass makers claim that their product has environmental benefits because it does not require watering, the Consumer Manager for Johnsons Lawn Seed, Guy Jenkins, disputes this claim, saying: “Johnsons Lawn Seed has invested a huge amount of time and money in research and development, especially in the field of drought-resistant grasses. The key to an eco-friendly lawn starts with choosing the best variety.
“Our best-selling Tuffgrass with Dog Patch Resistance, not only contains naturally tolerant grass species that won’t turn yellow when dogs use lawns as their toilet and also has remarkable drought-resistance properties. This hard wearing grass also stands up to low temperatures and snow as well as months of robust family use”.
Householders can also do much to preserve water reserves by taking simple measures such as harvesting rainwater in butts and only sprinkling gardens in the early evening, when the heat of the sun has passed and the risk of evaporation is lowest.
Guy continues saying: “ Some manufacturers of artificial claim also that their products are necessary in shady areas, but we have excellent grass seed varieties which have been specifically developed with shady corners in mind. For sites tucked under trees, walls or other dark corners, our special Shady Place lawn seed with Seedbooster nutrition is the ideal solution.”
He also debunks the myth that artificial grass is maintenance free, as it actually needs regular cleaning – fallen leaves and bird droppings are a particular problem – and will wear out after about 8-15 years. Disposing of fake grass sustainably is a real problem and much of it ends up at the town dump or ruining our countryside through fly-tipping.
With electric mowers gradually becoming the lawn and environmentalists recommending that grass be left longer before cutting to help support wildlife, the problem of noisy and noxious petrol lawn mowers is also becoming a thing of the past. If you then consider that some artificial grasses utlilise crumb rubber, which can contain heavy metals and harmful chemicals, ditching the fake becomes a no-brainer in environmental terms.
Grasses fulfil an important and complex role in various ecosystems, especially in urban areas where any kind of plant life is scarce. Wildlife campaigners have long been calling for a ban on artificial grass, which isn’t just difficult to maintain and a potential flood hazard, but devastating for plants and insects which rely on natural grasslands for their survival.
Unlike the plastic variety, real grass does not pose any kind of barrier to soil-conditioning earthworms and insects which lay their eggs in soil. Real grass is also free from the danger of wildlife-harming microplastics being leached into the earth.
You can encourage wildlife into your garden by allowing grasses and herbaceous plants to flower, providing nectar, pollen and seeds to support pollingating insects and birds, as well as offering a place for small animals to forage and shelter.' Johnsons Lawn Seed’s fantastic Country Meadow Wildflower Mix is incredibly popular and a simple way to seed an eco-friendly wildflower meadow. The gorgeous mix of native wildflowers to be found in this one box includes Birdsfoot Trefoil, Black Medick, Black Knapweed, Common Vetch, Meadow Buttercup, Oxeye Daisy, Ribwort Plantain, White Campion, White clover, Self Heal, Yarrow, Musk Mallow and Red Campion.
Grasses help guard against soil erosion, making it an essential component in the battle against floods. Grasses help manage excess ground water runoff by filtering water slowly into the ground. Gardens which have been paved, concreted over or covered in fake grass do not have this inbuilt level of protection against flooding.
A single hectare of grass can produce enough oxygen to support 150 people and also filters dust and other harmful particles from the air. In household terms, around 235m2 of grass will release enough oxygen each day to support a family of four.
Like all plants, grasses can also help regulate temperatures, helping to keep urban areas cool during long, hot summers. By contrast, research from New York's Department of Environmental Conservation has indicated that areas of fake grass in direct sun can be up to 15 - 20⁰C hotter than natural grass.
Grass is also an efficient means of transferring carbon to the soil, as grass leaves capture CO2 and the roots sequestrate CO2 into soil as carbon. 100m2 of grass sequestrates the equivalent of 1.23 tons of CO2 each year and more carbon per square metre than trees.
Whilst the environmental benefits of real grass cannot be disputed, some eight million square metres of plastic grass are still sold annually in the UK, with many consumers still failing to understand that these products are neither eco-friendly nor easily recyclable.