If you have a lawn, you’re in good company. At least 80 percent of households in the United States have lawns, and I confess that mine is among them. A patch of lawn can be a wonderful place for a baby to lie and sleep on, crawl around, and eventually play outdoors. It’s green (we hope), and it provides oxygen to the environment. It feels good to walk on, and personally, I love my little lawn and care for it avidly.
Nevertheless, as a doctor and environmentalist I realize that there’s no such thing as a natural lawn. Lawns don’t occur in nature without intense human intervention, except historically in places like Great Britain where it rains all the time and grazing sheep trim the grass. The kind of lush green lawns we love to have in our backyards, on our golf courses, and surrounding our corporate headquarters actually cause huge capital expense and, more important, exceptional damage to the environment. According to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation,1
- 30 percent of water consumed on the East Coast goes to watering lawns; that figure rises to 60 percent on the West Coast.
- 18 percent of municipal solid waste is composed of yard waste.
- The average suburban lawn receives ten times as much chemical pesticide per acre as farmland.
- More than seventy million tons of fertilizers and pesticides are applied to residential lawns and gardens annually.
- “Small SI engines (as in lawnmowers, leaf blowers) produce approximately one tenth of U.S. mobile source hydrocarbon (HC) emissions and are the largest single contributor to nonroad HC inventories. A typical SI engine produces as much pollution in 7 hours as a modern car driven for over 100,000 miles.”2 Put another way, per hour of operation, a gas lawn mower emits ten to twelve times as much hydrocarbon as a typical auto. A weed eater emits twenty-one times more, a leaf blower thirty-four times more.
- Where pesticides are used, 60 to 90 percent of earthworms are poisoned. Earthworms are important for soil health.
These statistics make going green in the great outdoors a very satisfying decision. Even the tiniest quantities of chemicals and other pollutants around your house (think lawn fertilizers, car-washing compounds, and the like) get picked up by rain and snow and are then carried through the storm drains to surface waters. Such small events go unnoticed, yet they can result in polluted drinking water, beach closings, and endangered wildlife.
I remember the day I put down my bug and weed killer with the sudden conviction that I no longer wanted to care for my lawn in ways that were unhealthy for my family and the environment. “Why,” I wondered, “would I put this stuff on the grass and then encourage my children, my dog, my cat, and my bunnies to play, run, and even roll all over it?”
Sometimes we do things that are antigreen simply out of habit. That’s why I feel it is so important to raise my children so that their lifestyle habits are naturally green. I have now adopted greener lawn-care strategies and feel the satisfaction of caring for my small plot of earth in ways that cultivate green grass while also respecting the earth it comes from.
Sustainable Lawn Care
There are many ways we can all make changes to reduce our abuse of the earth while caring for our lawns. ....read more