The Lawn Care Industry is Unsustainable

by Henry Prosack

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The lawn care industry has been a behavioral and cultural phenomenon since the 1950’s. The standard for the American Dream was to have a house with a white picket fence, a family with two children, and a freshly cut, well maintained lawn. Doug Fender, from Turfgrass Producers International, emphasized the obsession by stating, “The thing that makes me and a lot of other people in the turf business crazy is the absolute compunction to have a perfectly manicured lawn at the height of summer. The plant may go dormant, and it may be brown. But it’s still a healthy lawn. Tell someone a brown lawn is healthy and they’ll think you’re nuts.”Every weekend, over 54 million people go out and mow and water their lawns. However, our citizens are not fully aware on how their weekend routines affect the world. With the lawn care industry gaining 30 billion a year, the consumer must stop and realize that their purchases and actions are not sustainable. Over the years, some intellects have noticed that the lawn care industry contributes to an entire matrix of problems that cannot be easily overcome.

The most obvious of these problems are the environmental impacts on the world. Mostly everyone that owns a decent patch of lawn owns a mower and a weedwacker. Observing these machines more closely, we can see the amount of air pollutants that are released into the sky. Lawn care machines contribute to 5% of the total air pollution in the United States. The pollutants consist of hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide and monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, which in turn contribute to the deterioration of the ozone layer. Out of these machines, 800 million gallons of gas is used. According to the EPA, the average mower’s pollution in its lifespan is equivalent to 43 new cars traveling 12,000 miles each. Now, these statistics are not entirely accurate, and I do not believe them. However, they aren’t meant to be taken literally, but only to give an idea to the population how much gas a mower will inefficiently waste. Spillage is another big issue concerning the environment. Approximately 17 million gallons of gas are spilled a year, which is more than the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the Alaskan bay. The fertilizers that we use in order to maintain our green grass contain nitrogen and phosphorous, which are deadly chemicals to wildlife and plants. They also pollute our water by the runoff from the rain carrying it from our lawns. The most major environmental issue pertaining to the lawn care industry is the waste of water. Irrigation systems and watering hoses dump 181 gallons per day per lawn, which is a ridiculous amount. A significant sustainability problem that we will face in our lifetime is the low supply of water, and the lawn care industry is an example of that contributing factor of low supply. In Massachusetts, from 2000-2005, around 6500 wells were installed across the state at local residences. This adversely affected the rivers nearby, as now 70% of the rivers are flow-stressed. The amount of water used for our lawns is an unnecessary high number that will severely affect our water supply. These environmental problems can be easily thwarted, only if we chance our behavior and the industry itself.

Another problem with the lawn care industry is the health issues that are in result. The pollutants that are expelled into the air are known to cause respiratory problems due to the smog that accumulates over a civilian population. The nitrogen oxides contribute to what is known as ground level ozone, which is the high concentration of smog which has been known to increase the probabilities of heart and lung disease, and asthma. The smog also kills a bunch of plant life by limiting the oxygen supply. These health risks are dangerous and can be easily reduced by a change of action.

What are interesting about these problems that arise from lawn care are the legal requirements that help fuel and support its industry. In the majority of cities and municipalities, there are laws for their residents to maintain a certain grass height, or legal action will ensue. Usually, the legal action takes place when a fellow neighbor places a complaint to the authorities stating that the grass is too high. The owner will have to pay a fine or cut the grass to the legal height. Normally, the laws have the grass height level set at 8 inches. In Cantan, Ohio, a person can get a month’s worth of jail time for not mowing his/her lawn! These legal requirements are supporting the unsustainable system by forcing people to mow their lawns. With these laws, a cataclysm of events follows. When you mow your lawn, the grass height decreases. The ability for the ground to hold and maintain water also decreases. The grass would burn out if it is not watered significantly and well fertilized. In conclusion, these laws are encouraging the waste of resources, and the health and environmental problems that arise from the unsustainable industry of lawn care.

There are several simple solutions that don’t heavily impact our current behaviors and lifestyles. One thing that every consumer can change to is buying more efficient equipment. The lawn care industry is recognizing its impact that it is having on the environment, so there are now new alternatives that a consumer can buy. These more efficient machines still pollute, however, they are more sustainable than older models. Electric versions of mowers and weedwackers have been introduced for a while, but have not become popular. By investing in an electric mower, you alone could reduce the carbon emissions 80lbs per year. The best solution is the push mower, which have no emissions or use of materials such as gas and oil. Another solution is the use of natural plants in mix with your lawn. This will help retain the water and conserve it. By not weeding, water is also conserved. If you have to fertilize, using nitrogen-free fertilizers will help reduce the impact on the environment. Limiting the amount of times you mow, by cutting high, and limiting the amount of water you use will help support a more sustainable lifestyle. Sure, your lawn won’t be the best in the neighborhood, but there are bigger issues at stake.


Works Cited


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2. EPA. Healthy Lawn, Healthy Environment. EPA, 2004. Web. <http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/lawncare.pdf>.

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5. Leslie, Anne R. Handbook for Integrated Pest Management for Turf and Ornamentals. 1994. Print.

6. "Preventing Pollution Problems from Lawn and Garden Fertilizers." University of Minnesota Extension. Web. <http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/horticulture/DG2923.html>.

7. Ratliff, Evan. "Turf Wars: The Battle over the American Lawn." Lawn Wars. Web. <http://www.atavistic.org/evan/images/ReadyMade/Lawn%20Wars.pdf>.

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9. "Turfgrass Questions and Answers." US National Arboretum :. Web. 27 Apr. 2010. <http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/faqs/turfgrassfaq2.html>.