Reader Mark Canning responds to an article by Artificial Lawn Company that fought back against artificial lawn misinformation.

I was in the flooring sector between 1987 and 2022, working for two Belgium manufacturers and two large UK national distributors. In 2006 I started my own wholesale business selling carpets and floor coverings to independent retailers.

In 2013, I launched Flooring Megastore an online flooring retailer and in 2020 Carpetright approached me and eventually wholly acquired my two businesses in early 2021.

The author of the article Sam Baylis puts forward a well structured point of view but there are some holes in his reasoning.

Welsh Climate Change Minster Julie James seems to have a hunch that there's something not right, environmentally, about fake grass but she wasn't able to adequately back this up with sound reasoning, so I'm going to try and do that for her.

Firstly, I should pick up Baylis' point that artificial grass and giving off toxic fumes are "…none of which are true".

Recently, there were reports in the press in America that six, now deceased, ex-American footballers died of glioblastoma (rare brain cancer) and their families are attributing their similar deaths to toxic chemicals in the artificial turfs they had played on.

You can read the associated article, published in The Guardian. This is still being investigated and therefore not proven but the links ought to give some cause for concern.

Baylis' views on single-use plastic and how he feels it is not a fair cop for UK to ban artificial grass purely on the grounds of it being a 'single-use plastic' as artificial grasses can, in some cases, be recycled. 

There is a generalisation for those on the defence of using plastic products to hide behind the potential their products are safe to consume because they can be recycled. According to the United Nations, seven billion tonnes of plastic has so far been generated, less than ten per cent has been recycled. In reality, it just doesn't happen.

If plastic isn't recycled and repurposed, then what? Take your typical much loved packet of crisps. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, it would take 80 years for the packet to naturally biodegrade. Landfill and biodegradation, then, for fake grass is not a viable option in this day and age.

Baylis said: "Artificial lawn is not here to replace real grass - far from it". Not, according to Aviva, who carried out a survey and published their findings in July 2022. Environmentally, this is the biggest issue and root (did you see what I did there?) problem with fake grass which is never addressed by those in the trade and an issue I shall address shortly.

Having lived with fake grass, myself for a couple of years before researching and learning how dangerous to the environment it is, I can say these are some of the negative effects, as a user, you won't be told about by your installer.

  • Kills habitat for pollinators, birds, insects… all necessary for thriving biodiversity which is needed to help reduce climate change.
  • Becomes so hot in the direct sunlight that you can't comfortably walk barefoot on it (as for 40? like last summer… no chance). Lawns are cooler in direct sun.
  • Can't act as a carbon sink. Natural lawns can.
  • Increases localised temperature in direct sunlight. Lawns are considerably cooler.
  • Flattens after a short period and will never look as it did the day you installed it.
  • Pet urine will soon start to smell, becoming awful in direct sunlight. Attracting flies, too… nice.

And now for the elephant in the room and the major point not addressed by Baylis.

The real issue with artificial grass is the loss of habitat for wildlife. Britain is in the bottom ten per cent globally for biodiversity according to The BBC (and documented in Sir David Attenborough's Wild Isles documentary, aired in Spring 2023).

Biodiversity? So what?  

Biodiversity is about an interdependent ecosystem. Like balanced scales, you take from one side and the scales tip. Similarly, biodiversity loss means the ecosystem is out of balance and will create an equal and opposite reaction (as per Newton's Third Law), such as wildfires, floods, glacial melting, lack of snowfall in the Alps, sea level rise and so on.

Unsure of what a lawn ecosystem is? Let me explain. While lawns may seem like just grass and soil, they can support a variety of organisms that form a small-scale ecosystem.

In a lawn ecosystem, the primary living component is the grass itself. Different types of grasses can co-exist, forming a diverse community. Grass provides a habitat for various insects, such as ants, beetles, and grasshoppers, which live in the grass blades or underground in the soil. These insects play important roles in the ecosystem, acting as decomposers, pollinators, or prey for other organisms.

Lawn ecosystems also attract a range of other organisms. Birds, like robins or sparrows, visit lawns to search for insects, worms, or seeds. They contribute to the ecosystem by controlling insect populations and dispersing seeds from plants they've consumed. Additionally, small mammals such as hedgehogs or rabbits may visit lawns for foraging or shelter.

The soil in lawns is home to many microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and earthworms. These organisms help break down organic matter, decompose dead plant material, and improve soil fertility. Earthworms, for example, aerate the soil and create channels for water and air to penetrate, promoting healthy root growth for the grass and other plants.

Lawns are often irrigated, and water sources can attract amphibians like frogs or toads. These amphibians depend on moisture and insects found in the lawn environment. They contribute to the ecosystem by consuming insects and being a food source for larger predators.

It's important to note that maintaining a healthy lawn ecosystem involves practices that support biodiversity. Avoiding excessive pesticide or herbicide use and allowing some areas of the lawn to grow longer can provide habitat and food sources for a wider range of organisms. Incorporating native plants or creating small flower beds can further enhance the diversity and ecological value of the lawn ecosystem.

By recognising and supporting the ecosystem within lawns, we can foster a balanced and sustainable environment, even in urban or suburban areas.

An ecosystem is like a delicate balance of living and non-living things working together to create a healthy and sustainable environment. We need to understand and protect ecosystems because they provide us with resources like clean air, water, and food, and also help regulate the climate.

We now understand that biodiversity plays a significant part in stabilising our climate. Move the scales, or reduce biodiversity, and we will see our climate change.  

There are some cases, perhaps, when one can have a good reason for installing fake grass but given that at the moment it is not possible to police its consumption it seems the days of its use for residential installations are coming to an end.  

With the climate in apparent meltdown, we ought to turn to quick wins, areas of non-essentials. Given all I have documented, here, it seems difficult to continue with the folly of manufacturing and installing artificial grass.