The lawn, which is a green space, should be helpful for the environment. It produces oxygen, pushes radiation back into the atmosphere, and absorbs carbon. Many grass varieties have been hailed as the saviors of our earth because of how much carbon they trap.
However, suppose you own a plot of land that houses a lawn, In that case, the chances are that you have recently been bombarded with opinions about how your lawn contributes to the degradation of the environment. But, isn’t it green space, and aren’t green spaces good for the environment, you wonder. Well, the answer, sadly, isn’t so straightforward.
Mowing your lawn is largely considered bad for the environment, owing to multiple factors such as the use of pesticides that could pollute the soil and water, pollution of the air because of the use of gasoline, the large amounts of water that lawns require, and even the noise that lawnmowers make.
Let’s look at each of these factors. First things first, a lawn requires a considerable amount of time and money for its upkeep. Added to that, take these factors into account-
- We use herbicides to keep the lawn healthy
- A lawn requires water to stay green and fresh
- The shallow root systems that most varieties of grass come with lead to washing out of the topsoil
- We use lawnmowers that consume fuel and energy
Although lawns are green spaces, it is precisely the mowing and maintenance of the lawn that has come under scrutiny. It is this fortnightly or weekly ritual of keeping your lawn looking good that scientists and environmentalists are crying themselves hoarse about.
While copious amounts of water being used were one of the biggest gripes against people who have lawns. While gallons of gasoline get consumed for the upkeep of lawns, the exhaust fumes from these could also contribute to air pollution and health issues for those using them. This is especially the case with lawnmowers that belong to private households.
This is because they are not periodically maintained or replaced, unlike those used by companies or professionals.
Does mowing the lawn contribute to air pollution?
The exhaust fumes from rickety old lawnmowers, or even the state-of-the-art ones used by professional mowing companies, contribute to a significant portion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The percentage of carbon dioxide emitted while your lawn is mowed varies according to various studies. But what remains consistent is that cutting your lawn produces more carbon dioxide than what your lawn stores. A typical gas lawn mower can emit up to 90 pounds of carbon dioxide and 34 other pollutants in a single year.
Despite the comforts it affords in terms of being easy to maneuver or drive around, a gas lawn mower emits a massive amount of greenhouse gases. In addition, carbon emissions are relatively high when the lawnmowers or leaf blowers are used, and these could be a factor that works against your periodic pruning and mowing of your lawn.
This problem compounds itself if you have a variety of grass that grows long very quickly, and you like to keep the grass short all the time. When moving the grass that is cut to landfills or compost yards, there is carbon emission. In addition, the grass, when it decomposes, produces methane because of anaerobic respiration. All of these only contribute to more air pollution and environmental degradation.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), lawn care can prove detrimental to the environment on a larger scale than we imagine. For example, researchers at the University of California-Irvine found that the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during lawn maintenance is approximately four times that of what is stored by the grass.
Given that statistic evidence sets the number of gasoline-powered lawn mowers sold in the US between 350,000 and 400,000 per year, and with about 6 million lawnmowers being in the market, there is a lot of carbon dioxide that we are adding to the environment. In addition, the manufacturing, transportation, and even disposal of these lawn mowers further contribute to the CO2 emissions.
Do lawn mowers pollute more than cars?
Yes, recent studies have shown that lawnmowers pollute more than cars, except if you use battery-powered ones with zero emissions.
Let us put this in better perspective. When you compare the carbon emissions from a lawnmower for an hour, the carbon footprint it leaves is almost equal to a 100-mile-long road trip that a brand-new car makes.
Add a lawn blower into this equation, and the emissions could blow your mind. Using a lawn blower for thirty minutes causes the same amount of air pollution as a car moving at a speed of thirty miles an hour for seventy-seven hundred miles.
A typical lawnmower can cause as much pollution as about 40 late-model cars that are running for about an hour. Given how much land is used up as lawns in the United States, merely the gasoline-powered lawn mowers used for every lawn in a year can generate as many pollutants as nearly 2 million cars.
And it is not just carbon dioxide emissions that we need to consider- we have ozone, hydrocarbon emissions, and such. For example, if this is taken into account, the EPA studies show that the amount of air pollution that a gas-powered lawnmower produces equals about the same that 43 new cars driven for 12,000 miles per year emit.
The answer is clear- your lawn care is affecting the environment badly if you use a gas-powered lawnmower. Our liking for lawns is contributing about 13 billion pounds of pollutants into the air.
Does cutting grass release CO2?
A lawn contains grass, and grass absorbs carbon dioxide during the photosynthesis process, maybe on a smaller scale like any other plant. But research has shown that when the grass is cut or dies, it releases CO2 back into nature. According to Stephen Porter, a biogeochemistry professor at Brown University, a portion of carbon that grass stores gets stabilized after it dies.
Your lawn generally acts as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. But, cutting the lawn could produce carbon dioxide unless you are using a lawnmower that does not run on gasoline. In addition, the decomposing matter, that is, your cut grass could produce carbon dioxide, especially if it is in a landfill.
Even cutting your lawn too short could be a wrong step for the environment. The cut grass does not absorb as much carbon as tall grass. So, by cutting the grass, you are inadvertently making your lawn consume less carbon. This means that there is more carbon in the atmosphere.
What are the alternatives I can choose from to be more environmentally friendly?
There is a wide range of options to choose from if you want to enjoy the benefits of having a lawn and want to be environment friendly.
- The first step towards being more environmentally friendly is to use native grass varieties suitable for the climate you live in. In some parts of the US, the government has regulations about which types of grass can be used in lawns.
- Next, restrict the lawn mowing to once in three weeks, or even make it a monthly event. This means that the lawn will lose its well-manicured look. It will begin to look wilder, but it contributes less to the environment’s degradation, saving energy and money.
- Another option that helps with being environment-friendly is to choose electric or battery-powered lawn mowers over gasoline ones. This means that there are fewer emissions when you run your lawnmowers.
- The next thing is to choose how you dispose of the cut grass. Letting it decompose on the lawn itself is better than dumping the cut grass in a landfill. So, use the cut grass as mulch for your lawn or even your garden.
- Mow your lawn in the evening. This way, there is less ozone production. Ozone is usually produced more during the day. You can reduce the ozone level by mowing around sunset as the chemicals could become less harmful overnight.
- Reduce the use of lawn blowers, weed trimmers, chippers, and other equipment as well.
- Cut down on the use of herbicides and pesticides so that there is no contamination of the soil.
- If you still want the well-kept look of a manicured lawn, then opt for synthetic turf or artificial grass that does not require any mowing but some periodic maintenance.
- If you live in an area that does not have much water, xeriscaping, that is, the process of using succulents in the place of grass, is a preferred method for those who own large tracts of land and want to make it a green space.
Americans have always seen lawns as new patches of bright green grass. But it is evident that keeping our lawns manicured and aesthetically pleasing is costing the environment dearly. It is time we changed the aesthetic. Combining biodiversity and sustainability is the way forward.