Thursday, July 14, 2016

The downsides of going fake

This might look like an ordinary lawn and boulevard, but it's all fake grass.  Health and environmental officials are raising concerns about the increasing move toward artificial turf, and its impacts on humans and on the environment. 

Real boulevard grass to the left; artificial grass to the right. The leaves fall equally on both. 

Another house with artificial turf. Rocks on the boulevard  ensure there is no lawn mowing on this property! 

Or, you can go another route. This beautiful piece of landscaping has no grass, but lots of  drought-resistant plants like lavender, grasses and  verbena. 

Another property where eye-pleasing alternatives have been found to traditional lawns.

The house is modern, and the non-traditional plantings fit right in.

All the grass has been replaced by a masses of drought-tolerant plants at this little cottage.

There is no room on either side of the sidewalk for regular grass on this colourfully planted property. 

I stopped in my tracks during a recent walk with an abrupt feeling that something wasn't right. It took a few minutes to figure it out. It was the grass. The lawn around the house I was passing was smooth, green, perfect, divided by wooden borders into sections, like rugs stretched out for display.

On one side of the wooden barriers was reality -- scruffy, weedy grass with soil showing through. On the other side was perfection -- the thick, even greenery of artificial grass.

An earlier news headline about hordes of homeowners tearing out their lawns and installing artificial turf leapt to mind. A great solution to climate change, they rhapsodized -- not only would it save water, but it would reduce pesticide use. Plus guarantee a perfect lawn year-round with no mowing or maintenance.

Why was my first reaction to remember K-Cups? At a time when we all knew about the huge plastic island in the middle of the ocean, we were enthusiastically agreeing to add to the plastic problem with every coffee we drank. As for artificial grass, no matter how much water it saved, could it be good for large numbers of houses to have big plastic mats around them? How would it affect earthworms and bugs that live in the soil? How about the birds that live on them?

Turns out that yes, there are concerns. "Artificial turf acts and behaves like any other paved surface," Ronald Macfarlane, a public health manager for Toronto, told The Huffington Post in a June 2015 story. "It gets very hot in the sun." Hot plastic can release toxic chemicals into the air. And hot plastic, like concrete, can raise local air temperatures by several degrees. Manufacturers recommend watering it to cool it down -- as well as to remove animal pee and poop -- reducing its water-saving advantages. It's perforated, but rain goes through slower than in regular grass, which can cause flooding. It can even contribute to climate change, as it doesn't have the air-purifying effects of plants and lawns, which take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

Experts recommend that anyone wanting to get rid of their grass lawn turn to natural landscaping and drought-friendly plants. In my travels around the city, I see many people using imaginative -- often much more beautiful -- alternatives to traditional lawns.

For those who insist on going the fake grass route, I turn to a naughty suggestion from my sister-in-law Wendy. "What would happen," she asked, "if you took dandelion seeds and blew them onto an artificial lawn?' Perhaps if we added a handful of dirt, we could bring nature back.


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