Plastic Lawns are an ecological disaster.
Toxic turf: why we need to kick out plastic grass.

In case you missed it, we don't just have one planetary catastrophe unfolding, we have THREE: climate, ecosystems, and POLLUTION. All interacting & overlapping, but existing in their own right.

And at the dead centre of these intersecting circles, we can find plastics.  If we had a magic wand to solve the climate and the ecological crises, we'd still be existentially threatened by our pollution. And yet, just this summer, we are seeing more and more plastic for sale, not just the usual bottles, packages and bags, but layers of it carpeting outside spaces. Spaces where insects and soil dwelling animals used to live.

We are facing an unprecedented biodiversity crisis, with the head of the Environment Agency warning of a mass extinction of nature unless we change our ways. Our use of plastics inside our homes is everywhere: carpets, kitchen worktops, cupboards, baths, laminates are all made of it. But our gardens were once a small haven for plants and wildlife to continue to try and flourish in an ever plasticized world. Can we really afford to start covering these outdoor spaces in it too?

Our obsession with clipped green lawns started with rich colonialists showing that they could impose order on nature in hot climates where they lived in their lavish villas - and this symbol of respectability has seeped into our consciousness as gardeners.

But even a classic British grass lawn doesn’t encourage a wide range of creatures to thrive; it’s a monoculture and this lack of diversity. However, the sub-soil world is rich in organisms and worms still provide food for birds and are busy aerating the soil.  

This biodiversity crisis is not a crisis that exists separately from us humans. We depend on the plants and insects for our climate to remain stable and for our food. If we interfere with the basic food chain we are damaging ourselves. We are part of nature.

What’s more, plastic grass – as with all plastic – has a direct effect on human health too. Plastics contain dozens of toxic chemicals: PFAs, phthalates to name a couple, the latter which acts as a hormone disruptor which reduces fertility and could make humans functionally sterile within decades.

Note that these chemicals don't break down in the environment, they just accumulate. And they can't practicably be removed from drinking water, so if rainwater isn't fit to drink, neither is tap or bottled water.

"Harmful chemicals called PFAS can be found even in remote regions of Tibet and Antarctica. Atmospheric levels of toxic “forever chemicals” are so high that rainwater everywhere contains amounts that are unsafe for long-term human consumption according to safety guidelines, scientists say.

"Hazardous pollutants known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are sometimes called “forever chemicals” because they break down so slowly over time, are present at such elevated levels in environments around the world that scientists believe the ubiquitous contamination has now exceeded a safe planetary boundary, reports a new study.

"These chemicals are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the rain that falls on our communities, and even our blood. PFAS pollution is known to negatively affect the immune system, but the full impact of exposure on human and ecological health is not known.

"In light of the many open questions about this pollution, scientists conducted field tests of four kinds of PFAS and analysed countless other measurements. The team now warns that “even in these remote and sparsely populated regions, such as Antarctica and the Tibetan plateau, the most stringent PFAs guidelines are exceeded”. For this reason, the researchers concluded that PFAS pollution has crossed a planetary boundary, which is a concept that attempts to constrain the limits of “a safe operating space for humanity with respect to the functioning of the Earth System,” according to the team that debuted it in 2009. Boundaries are breached when anthropogenic pressures threaten irreversible harm to Earth’s ecosystems and to our own human well-being.

“Based on the four PFAAS considered here, it is concluded that in many areas inhabited by humans the planetary boundary for PFAAS has been exceeded based on the levels in rainwater, surface water and soil, with all of these media being widely contaminated above recently proposed guideline levels,” the researchers said in the study.

"Starting in the 1940s, manufacturers developed thousands of different PFAS for use in products such as nonstick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics, and waterproof clothing. The same powerful molecular bonds that make PFAs so commercially versatile show a darker side once they leach into the water cycle as pollutants”. PFAs are also used in the manufacture of the blades of artificial turf.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, there is no way artificial turf will be recycled. If you go to the local dump, they will put it in a pile for incineration. The toxic fumes residue from this will affect us all.

Yet despite this, DEFRA says it has no plans to ban artificial turf, saying instead:  “We prefer to help people and companies make the right choice, rather than banning items outright”.

We say: where is the public information campaign on the dangers of this toxic turf? How exactly are you guiding people to the right choices - choices made to protect our long term futures, not short term fixes?

Looks like it’s up to us to provide this information campaign ourselves.

This shouldn’t be a culture war.  This is not a class issue – plastic grass is appearing all across the social spectrum. But not many middle class or rich people live near incinerators. Public health is not a political issue, or it shouldn’t be. To save our children and their children from a choking future, filled with disease and climate catastrophes we need to eliminate unnecessary plastics from our lives. There are alternatives to plastic grass, we just need to keep them in mind when it reaches the end of its short life. And then, roll them up and keep them sealed in a loft or a concrete mausoleum - for ever and ever.  


1 Microplastics

Plastic grass is made of fossil fuels (oil and shale gas) which are sourced through fracking (which pollutes land when chemicals are pumped at pressure to release the gas) and then cracked into plastic at petrochemical plants, using vast amounts of energy. Tiny pieces of this plastic break off from plastic grass and go into the soil, the water, and eventually animals and humans. Plastic particles have recently been found in human blood and lungs. We don’t yet know how dangerous this is, as the amount of plastic in our environment has been steadily rising in the last few decades and we are in an unprecedented situation.

Source: Common Seas 25/3/22


Did you know that the blades in artificial turf contain PFAs? PFAS are known as “forever chemicals,” since they accumulate in the body and do break not down. Nearly all Americans' blood is polluted with PFAS chemicals, which have been linked to lower childhood immunity, endocrine disruption and cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to harm from PFAS because of their developing bodies and PFAS chemicals’ persistence in the body. The whole lifecycle of plastic from production to use to disposal affects these aspects of human health through a startling array of different chemicals: cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems, impacts include cancers, diabetes, neuro-, reproductive, and developmental toxicity.

Source: CIEL and EWG 29/10/19

3. Greenwashing

Did you know that companies selling plastic grass try to make their products sound less bad for the environment than they really are? The Advertising Standards Authority this year banned plastic grass companies from boasting that they’re eco friendly. The product was made of plastic, the ASA said, and, taking into account its whole lifecycle, it “had a negative impact on the environment”.

Source: ASA 8/6/22

4. Biodiversity crisis

Plastic grass covers up the earth, one of the places where plants and animals live. If we don’t value the living soil beneath our feet and let it degrade, compact and die, we are sleepwalking into a world without the nature that we are part of and it will have disastrous implications for all of us in the future. We need to cherish every outdoor space and give it a chance to thrive if we want a liveable future. The head of the Environment Agency,  Sir James Bevan, warns of the potential loss of our natural ecosystems that pose an existential risk to human survival. This catastrophe awaits humanity unless action is taken by businesses, government and individuals to prevent further damage and rebuild the natural environment. Covering a garden in plastic makes the crisis worse.  

Source: Environment Agency 12/7/22

5. Incineration

Did you know the end of life plans for plastic grass are dangerous to human health? In the UK there are no recycling facilities so it gets burnt. Across the UK, waste incinerators are three times more likely to be built in the poorest neighbourhoods than in the more affluent. The incineration of plastics contributes both greenhouse gases to climate change, and a cocktail of pollutants that are toxic to human health from nitrogen oxide to furans, dioxins, metals, and ultra-fine particulates that escape through even the most advanced incinerator filters.

Source: Independent 17/7/21

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We think plastic is bad.

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