Now that Welsh Climate Change Minister Julie James has done a U-turn on banning artificial lawn, she continues to make erroneous statements about its effect on the environment. Sam Baylis, Surveyor and Sales Professional at Artificial Lawn Company, speaks out against the misrepresentation of a product and an industry.
In the spirit of an open and balanced debate, we felt it important to state the case on behalf of those companies who are measuring, fitting and installing artificial grass on a daily basis.
Indeed, I have been involved in the artificial lawn business since I was 14 years old, and I fully understand the concerns that people like Climate Change Minister, Julie James, have - cheap plastic grass is an abomination and should be banned.
Despite the U-turn James is still maintaining that weeds can grow through, that it fades in the sun, and that it gives off toxic fumes - none of which are true.
Premium quality artificial lawn, though, is a different material and has its place in landscape design. Conflating the cheap fake grass products mass-manufactured overseas, with quality European manufactured alternatives, is akin to likening fast fashion to bespoke designer wear.
Stop the catastrophising
Firstly, I would like to address some of James' points which, at best, are overly catastrophising the use of artificial grass and, at worse, are erroneous and are not based on any reasonable evidence.
I would then like to highlight that there are certainly many positive uses for artificial grass when used sympathetically and responsibly. It is also worth noting throughout that artificial grass is not a replacement for the real thing by any stretch. It is for smaller gardens and areas whereby it is impossible and very difficult to maintain a real lawn. That can be from excess shade, footfall, pets and more.
Comparing it to single use plastics
According to media reports, James includes fake grass within the remit of ‘single use plastics.' Single use plastics are generally defined as an item that is used once and then discarded, sometimes in a matter of minutes.
The UK government's website cites the most offensive items as plastic cutlery, plastic and polystyrene plates, straws and stirrers, balloons and sticks for balloons, food containers, cups for beverages, cigarette butts, plastic bags, packets and wrappers, wet wipes and sanitary items.
These are all everyday items that are, as stated, used once and then thrown away (hopefully in the recycling bin).
The comparison with a quality artificial lawn product is untenable. While we guarantee our products for ten years, many of our customers are still enjoying their gardens more than 20 years after they first had them installed.
Any of the installations that come to the end of their natural life can be carefully removed and re-purposed in animal shelters and dog homes, providing a gentler and more forgiving floor covering than bare concrete, which can be easily washed down.
Instigating a complete ban on the basis of a premium artificial lawn product being single use is, therefore, in my opinion, founded on a false premise. This combined with the fact that artificial grass can in fact be recycled, albeit currently the infrastructure is lacking to do this efficiently.
Some products are now being produced with a non-latex backing, either polypropylene or polyethylene (same materials as the grass fibres) meaning that they can be easily recycled just like a plastic straw!
Artificial grass is maintenance-free - true or false?
James dismissed the notion that artificial grass is maintenance-free.
I completely agree with her.
It does require a degree of care and maintenance if it is to exceed its life span - like most things. It would be irresponsible of a premium artificial lawn seller to claim it as a maintenance-free product. However, it does require significantly less care to keep it looking fresh and clean all year round.
I equally agree with her about the fact that weeds can grow through fake grass. If it is not laid properly, with an adequate sub-base and weed-proof membrane, which is the quick and cheap way of laying fake grass, then, of course, nature will have its way and let the weeds through. A proper installation is actually quite simple but follows a precise system that will ensure weed-free longevity.
According to James, there have been studies citing the release of toxins from fake grass when children play on it. The only issue we occasionally hear is if someone is allergic to the latex, which goes into the backing of the grass, in the same way, that many people suffer from hay fever if there is too much pollen in the air.
As mentioned, this can be solved by grasses with the alternative backings. Sometimes the fibres, especially when first cut can find their way into the surrounding area though, a thorough tidy up after any installation helps to reduce this; much like when a new carpet is fitted and there can be lots of lost strands.
A premium artificial grass product is no more or less toxic than any other plastic product, whether that is a knife and fork or a plastic shopping bag and they do not leach into the environment. I am unable to cite any example of toxin poisoning caused by our artificial lawn in the 20 years we have been in business.
While we accept that the grass can absorb heat on a hot day, it is no different to any other common ground covering such as paving, stones, concrete, decking or tarmac - all of which get hotter in the sun than natural grass. A kiln-dried sand infill in the top of the grass can also help reduce the temperature slightly.
A positive stance on artificial lawn
Artificial lawn is not here to replace real grass - far from it. Rather, it exists as an alternative to other options, such as paving or concrete.
There are many who would rather have the colour and softer texture of grass rather than hardstanding materials, and when used as part of an overall landscaping project, it can enhance the finished look without compromising the collective biodiversity contribution of an outdoor space any more than any other ground covering alternative.
It is also fully porous with drainage holes unlike other coverings so does not increase the risks of increased run-off (when installed onto the recommended subbase).
We work with many older couples and families of disabled children who cannot cope with the high maintenance requirements of lawns but don't want to have the harsher edges that hard-standing materials can sometimes give.
We work with them to establish a design that combines elements of a garden that is easy to maintain but still encourages biodiversity while significantly reducing the maintenance element of their garden.
With suggestions for native potted plants or wildflower seed in a section of the garden creates spaces for the creatures which may otherwise lose out from an artificial lawn.
Working towards greater sustainability
While the artificial lawn industry as a whole is investing in improving the recycling infrastructure for latex backed products, we make sure that our own lawns are as durable and hard-wearing as possible to get the maximum use out of them, with a lifespan of up to 20 years and more.
We have also just launched our new Polypropylene backed grass which is fully recyclable. What those with responsibility for public landscape products need to be aware of are cheaper fake grass products. They don't fulfil the same function as a premium lawn, become quickly worn out, and ultimately end up in a landfill.
Too often, fake grass can be seen as a quick fix to make a garden project look instantaneously good - unfortunately, that ‘Instagram' immediacy never lasts with a poor quality product or installation.
Fake grass is not a quick fix or a replacement for natural grass. Artificial lawn is a viable alternative where growing natural grass is not possible. There is a difference.
As a professional, it's always disappointing to see fake grass laid out as a cover-up, either with a cheap product or poor installation - it immediately makes me wonder what might be underneath, and I know immediately the raft of problems those with responsibility for maintenance will be dealing with in time.
I would not want to compromise the longevity of any installation with a quick fix.