Artificial Grass was first used in the 1960s, most notably by the Astrodome multi-sports stadium in Houston, Texas who switched to synthetic fibres after many failed attempts at laying and maintaining a natural grass pitch. Since then, the popularity of artificial grass has skyrocketed with one in ten (10%) of UK homeowners having already replaced their natural lawn with artificial grass and another 29% considering making the switch. With over 24 million dwellings in the UK, the number of artificial or ‘fake’ lawns already installed is enormous.

As our lives become busier and free time scarcer, we lack the time to maintain a natural lawn and have come to discover that artificial grass provides many hitherto unknown benefits. More spare time, all-year round aesthetics, low maintenance, mud-free enjoyment, and drought resistance tempt millions to do away with their natural lawns. Despite these benefits, artificial grass has recently come under attack from environmental groups and the press.

The Controversy

Let’s start with some background. Artificial grass is manufactured from human made unnatural materials including polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon. The latest generation artificial grass available on the market today is much improved compared to first generation synthetic turf developed in the 1960s. It looks and feels like the real thing and is much better in terms of durability, aesthetics, maintenance and sustainability due to advances in material selection and manufacturing technology. However, despite technological advances, plastic remains the primary material from which artificial grass is made and is responsible for its primary benefits. No one has yet devised an alternative to manufacturing grass blades, thatching, backing & cushioning, and synthetic grass infill without relying on plastics or other hydrocarbon derived materials.

What are the downsides? Campaign groups are concerned that laying artificial grass creates a barrier to earthworms and egg-laying insects who ordinarily thrive in natural grasslands that are not cut nor treated with chemicals. Such groups rightly point out that habitat loss and biodiversity impacts can result from synthetic grass; however environmentally conscious homeowners can easily offset these impacts (as we will discuss later).

The release of microplastics into soil and water should concern us all. There have been worrying stories of microplastics being found inside the flesh of ocean fish and in the meat, milk and blood of farm animals. The SBR rubber granules added to artificial grass playing fields have been found to contain potentially toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that can leach into the environment and disrupt natural habitats. However, the rubber used in landscaping artificial grass is much more stable and rarely contains loose SBR granules (unless requested) that are quickly washed away during a downpour. We believe the stability of rubberised elements inside latest generation artificial grass solutions means that homeowners can rest easy and enjoy their gardens without worrying about their lawn becoming part of their diet!

It is well known that recycling artificial grass is a difficult process. Although the plastic can be recycled quite easily, separating the grass’ components that are typically manufactured from different plastic types poses a challenge. The use of sand and SBR infill further complicates the process, however most landscaping grass does not require infill and is therefore easier to process. As more and more people become environmentally aware, we have seen several advances in technology that simplify the recycling of artificial turf. Plastics are separated and go through a re-pelletising process involving the cutting, melting and transforming of raw materials into pellets that can be later extruded and reused to produce other plastic products. Although recycling requires specialist equipment and expertise, the future of recycling artificial grass is bright as technology continues to advance in terms of sustainable manufacturing and recycling processes. We can expect the sustainability and environmental friendliness of artificial lawns to improve over the next few years.

In Artificial Grass’ Defence

There have recently been petitions to ban the sale of artificial grass and to introduce an ‘Ecological Damage Tax’ to astroturf lawns. The number of signatures fell well short of the 100,000 required to be considered for a parliamentary debate (32,727 and 26,440 respectively). The government has clarified that is has no plans to ban artificial grass nor introduce a tax that would destroy the artificial grass industry and its many benefits.

Although the government has confirmed its position, it is well worth reminding ourselves of how artificial grass negates the environmental impact of natural grass lawns and sports fields; a topic not often covered in the news.

A typical grass sports field requires approximately 4.5 million litres of water a year and are deluged with a mixture of poisonous insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to control weeds, insects, fungi, bacteria, rodents and other unwanted organisms. Furthermore, there are several health hazards related to pesticide use on sports fields or gardens such as child exposure and chemical ingestion, notwithstanding the leaching of pesticides into delicate natural habitats. The inorganic nature of artificial grass lawns means they can be used for decades without watering or chemical treatment.

The prolonged spells of hot weather the UK experienced in 2022 increased demand for water, putting strain on our old network and accelerating water draw from rivers, underground aquifers, and reservoirs. Many scientists believe that heat waves will become more common over the next few decades due to climate change and many more hosepipe bans will be justified as a result. Watering lawns and sports pitches in a climate of increasing water scarcity and lacklustre infrastructure investment will only deepen the issue and strengthen the case for artificial grass. For example, a lawn sprinkler can use as much water in half an hour as the average family of four uses in a whole day.

A recent study has found that Brits spend almost two months of their lives mowing the lawn. Corded electric mowers typically use between 700 and 1800 watts of electricity per hour which equates to over a kilogram of CO2 released into the atmosphere each month and 480 tonnes of CO2 over a lifetime (based on a 1800w mower used 2.4 a month). With tens of millions of grass lawns in the UK, we’re talking about billions of tonnes of CO2 that will hamper the UK’s ability to meet net zero targets by 2050.

Mowing a half an acre lawn can generate as much of 4.5 tonnes of grass clippings a year. Grass clippings are the third largest component of solid landfill waste which causes methane emissions and nitrates to leach into natural water courses. Grass waste makes excellent compost and can be reused a number of ways however the vast majority is simply disposed of in already overcrowded landfill sites. Artificial grass produces no organic waste over its lifetime and avoids the emissions concerns of clipping disposal. Furthermore, ‘fake’ grass is often used in place of stone and concrete (e.g. stepping stones) which are manufactured through a carbon and resource intensive processes.

Ways to Improve Sustainability

As mentioned, the manufacture and disposal of artificial grass does cause environmental impacts however there are ways that homeowners can improve garden sustainability. Soil borders, planters and beds can provide excellent habitats for worms, insects and other animals and help them thrive alongside artificial lawns. Planting lavender, honeysuckle, primroses, alliums, catmint and foxgloves provide nutritious nectar for pollinators and other insects; bees are facing many threats such as climate change, toxic pesticides and disease that homeowners can help neutralise.

Other ideas include buying recyclable pots and reusing old ones, saving water by installing water butts, making your own compost, planting trees, installing hedges instead of fences, and adding bat boxes or ‘bug hotels’.

As we know, it is possible to recycle artificial grass once it reaches the end of its life. An alternative is to reuse or repurpose the synthetic turf to considerably extend its life and usefulness. For instance, many homeowners use old artificial grass as floor covering for dog runs/parks, animal cages and barns/stables, to shore up areas prone to erosion, and as sport practice surfaces such as golf mats. There are any number of ways to use old turf with the only limit being people’s imagination.

Why Choose Artificial Grass?

Although artificial grass has been in the cross hairs of environmental groups, it remains a valid and sustainable choice for millions of homeowners around the country.

  • Perfect aesthetics all year round – no need to trim or dispose of clippings.
  • No watering required – save on bills and minimise water usage in times of increasing water scarcity.
  • No pesticides or fertilisers – protecting biodiversity and habitats from toxic chemical treatments.
  • Your weekend is your own – save two months of your life doing what you love (unless you love cutting the lawn…)
  • Highly durable – artificial grass is expected to last 15 years of intense use.
  • Use shady areas of your garden – artificial grass provides a usable surface in areas where grass would otherwise not grow (e.g. under trees)
  • Rapid installation – most artificial lawns can be installed within 1-2 days.
  • Pets and children – no more muddy paws or shoes dirtying your floors.
  • Recyclable – material selection and recycling technology is advancing each year.

Having artificial grass encourages people to get outside, especially in the winter months where lack of sunlight can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which affects around 2 million people in the UK. Getting outside, even for a few minutes, is made more difficult if you have a wet, muddy grass lawn.

The mental health aspects of using gardens cannot be understated, especially considering that the number of people with common mental health problems has increased by 20% between 1993 and 2014. Artificial lawns enable vulnerable, elderly and time-poor people to enjoy their gardens year-round and help those with chronic health conditions to avoid grass lawn maintenance.

Looking for an Artificial Grass Installer?

The Artificial Grass Guru is a family-run business with more than 10 years’ experience installing artificial grass to homes across Greater Manchester, including Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Bredbury, Royton, Middleton, Hyde, Denton, Bury, Prestwich, Eccles, Trafford, Glossop and many more locations.