Turf wars: why choose the real thing

  • Posted by: Plastic Free
  • Category: Plastic Free

You may have noticed the prolific rise of unnaturally perfect lawns popping up across the island – but did you know that artificial grass is made of plastic?
Coincidentally, as we began researching the impact of artificial turf, a podcast was published by the BBC’s Costing The Earth series. We have summarised the reasons why natural grass is best for our environment and borrowed some of their facts. 

Soft, springy grass, what better?

There has been huge growth in the demand for fake grass recently and it’s now a billion-pound industry, but we would encourage anyone fortunate enough to own land to opt for the original, natural and living variety where possible. 
It’s bad for our climate
Unlike natural grass, plastic grass doesn’t absorb carbon dioxide or provide oxygen; this gas exchange in natural lawns can be a net carbon sink – helping in the fight against global climate change. Instead, it actually absorbs heat from the sun, further contributing to the warming of our environment. On a warm day, it can be too hot to walk on barefoot, unlike the fresh, cool sensation of grass underfoot. Real plants are the lungs of our planet and reflect heat away from the earth. The whole lifespan of artificial grass is bad for our climate; its creation (from crude oil), shipping and its end of life all are net emitters of carbon dioxide and other climate destroying gases.

It contributes to plastic pollution
As plastic grass is walked on, it can be slowly broken down and small pieces of plastic will be washed off into the wider environment, water courses, and eventually into the sea. Here, it can have wide ranging impacts and may even make its way back to our plates in the fish we eat! Despite manufacturers’ claims, artificial grass cannot be recycled at the end of its life (especially not in small islands like Guernsey) and so will ultimately end up in landfill or incinerators. 

Nature knows best.

It disconnects us from nature
By covering our gardens and public spaces in perennially green grass, we are choosing to disconnect from nature. Children playing on plastic grass can’t make daisy chains, grass bouquets or go hunting for mini beasts. This divorce from our surroundings fosters an attitude of apathy, and that will surely continue in a negative spiral. By having a living space to tend, we are brought closer to the plants and trees which give us life rather than the sterile, homogenous alternative. 
As lockdown has shown us, connection to nature also has an impact on us personally; pottering in the garden is a great form of exercise, an opportunity to get some vitamin D and even if you get a gardener to do it for you, you are supporting a local business. 

It doesn’t support nature
Nature by its very definition is imperfect, so accept that your lawn might not look like centre court at Wimbledon but know that those dandelions and daisies are helping the busy pollinators to thrive; we need these insects to ensure our supply of fruit and vegetables is sustained. They provide food for birds and encourage wider biodiversity. Planting a small patch of grass and allowing nature to take its course with wildflowers really has a positive snowball effect. There’s no such thing as weeds! 
2% of the land in the UK is made up of gardens, and re-wilding is a big topic right now; as we lose acres of green space every minute to deforestation, truly every little helps.

A wildflower pollinator patch on Fort Road, Guernsey, planted by The Pollinator Project

We spoke to Sasha Marsh from The Soil Farm, a local company dedicated to integrating food production with environmental regeneration, who said, “At The Soil Farm, we work to regenerate soil biology, supporting and protecting biodiversity and natural habitats. When people choose artificial grass they will likely do so for the convenience and low maintenance benefits. On a balcony, or within a stone courtyard this may seem a practical way to soften and make use of the space. However, when artificial grass is used to replace a lawn, or increasingly, to wrap an earth bank, the effect on the soil ecosystem and habitats above ground are devastating. 

Typically the ground will be compacted prior to fitting, which, coupled with the absence of living roots in the soil, will kill soil microbes and reduce the soil’s ability to retain moisture, increasing runoff. When artificial grasses are used around established trees, the lack of complimentary plants and therefore roots, will significantly hamper the long term health of the tree, in much the same way as tarmac and paving, restricting the natural breakdown of leaves and branches, which attract beneficial biology and support the natural cycle of trees within their drip zones.

It is easy to lose sight of the critical function of our domestic land, our front and back gardens, our hedges and borders, as in isolation they seem insignificant. Collectively however, they make up a very significant parcel of land and for our wildlife, above and below ground, they provide critical safe havens and corridors for life to continue in the face of ever increasing development. If low maintenance is the objective, we recognise that a lawn can be a hassle on a small patch of land, requiring weekly attendance and somewhere to store the mower, but there are alternatives that can suit the laziest of gardeners and provide incredible support to our wildlife and biodiversity.

If a hard wearing and functional lawn is the objective, then a focus on seed mixes and favouring biology will still deliver great results. We offer a number of seed mixes, alongside natural mineral and fertiliser products, free from synthetic chemicals, that will give you an almost maintenance free habitat or vibrant green and functional lawn all year round. For us, beauty will always be found naturally, in diversity and health, rather than in synthetic and practical uniformity at the expense of all else.”

We couldn’t agree more, but would love to hear your thoughts below in the comments.

Written by Madeleine Norman and Julia Henney

Author: Plastic Free

Leave a Reply


  • Lindsay de Sausmarez

    Thank you for raising the profile of this issue: I hope plastic lawns is a trend we can help to reverse here in Guernsey. Nature can do a much better job in so many ways!

  • David Chester

    Could not agree more with all the points in support of natural lawns as opposed to artificial plastic turf. Politically the problem could be addressed by the imposition of an end of life disposal charge upon importation of plastic turf and indeed many other plastic items which degrade and polite our environment for generations to come.

  • Trevor Bourgaize

    It needs either Environment or Planning departments to take the lead. We are experiencing creeping urbanisation. Whole properties paved over, plastic grass, black plastic membrane covering an increasing number of banks. The tops of many of these traditional Guernsey banks are then planted with non native hedging. Instead of Planning releasing the shackles I would like to see them address these issues. They could start with a formula that dictates how much of a property can be paved over. It just needs the political will.

  • Denise

    I agree with Lindsey ‘s view on highlighting this matter, it would be great to get this info out to the wider public