Great Reasons to Get Rid of Your Lawn


This story originally appeared on EcoSalon.

In her recent piece in USA Today, Laura Vanderkam takes an environmental stand against the family yard:

“Mowing itself requires fuel, just like our cars, with a similar impact on the environment. And all these woes are before you even get to the issue of water. According to Kress, maintaining non-native plants requires 10,000 gallons of water per year per lawn, over and above rainwater. That water doesn’t just show up by itself; it requires energy to get to your hose. In California, for example, the energy required to treat and move water amounts to 19 percent of total electricity use in the state.”

Vanderkam got me thinking. In her article, she states that maintaining a lawn is one of the most difficult – and therefore potentially environmentally unfriendly – activities one can associate with home ownership.

She interviewed Florida resident Diane Faulkner, who spent some time in Kenya and participated in a daily ritual of waking up at dawn to walk miles along a dried-up river toward a water source, then returning with a few gallons for cooking and washing.

When she returned to America, she asked herself: “How many gallons of water do I waste on that stinking lawn?”

And once the grass has been watered, she wondered, what else goes into keeping it maintained that’s bad for the planet? (Subquestion: How many people own push-mowers anymore, instead of their more convenient relatives, motorized mowers?) While a field of emerald, tailored grass is ubiquitous with owning any sized plot of land, taking care of it is anything but natural.

So, unless you own a sheep, you’re actually doing harm to the environment every time you water and cut the green patches in the front, and backyard. There are 21 million acres of lawn across the country.

In addition to the water waste and exhaust emissions from gas-powered mowers (and don’t even get me started on riding mowers), homeowners use more than 78 million pounds of pesticides each year to keep their front yard “green,” according to Stephen Kress of the National Audubon Society. He also states that weed killers should be banished; simply mowing the lawn removes the tops of weeds and wildflowers, making their stalks virtually undistinguishable from their grassy hosts.

As familiar as the lawn may be when picturing a traditional American neighborhood, think for a moment: What went into putting it there in the first place? Laura Ingalls Wilder aside, the grass was installed on your property, similar to the way your man-made house was. According to Kress, maintaining non-native plants requires 10,000 gallons of water per year per lawn – in addition to rainwater. Then there’s the hose. The water doesn’t flow through it because it wants to – it requires energy to get from pipes to hose. In California, for example, the energy required to treat and move water amounts to 19 percent of total electricity use in the state.

Says the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey, the average father of school-aged kids spends 1.6 hours a week on lawn and garden care – more time than he spends on reading, talking, playing or doing educational activities with his kids combined.

Do you think that politicians should start regulating your lawn?

Some facts:

  • Inspectors are deployed to count the square footage of grass vs. wild plants; states are cutting teachers and police officers
  • By 2020, California will face a shortfall of fresh water as great as the amount that all of its cities and towns together are consuming today
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion
 people will live in conditions of absolute 
water scarcity, and 65 percent of the world’s population will be water stressed
  • To grow a ton of wheat, it takes 1,000 tons of water; the U.S is the largest exporter of wheat to the world; when we export a ton of our wheat, we are effectively including 100 tons of water in the bargain
  • In the U.S, 21 percent of irrigation is achieved by pumping groundwater at rates that exceed the water’s ability to recharge
  • There are 66 golf courses in Palm Springs; on average, they each consume over a million gallons of water per day
  • Lake Meade (the source of 95 percent of water for Las Vegas) will be dry in the next 4 to 10 years
  • Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping that uses zero water
  • You can also turn your yard into a vegetable garden; use dense plantings and heavy mulch to keep the weeds down, and put a drip irrigation on a timer for lower maintenance
  • And for lawn jockeys, in Southern California verdolagas (a type of purslane) looks like lawn and will grow with zero or infrequent watering over most places

Then there’s Faulkner. She redid her lawn with rocks and hearty plants such as Confederate Jasmine, arranged to look like an English garden. “I don’t have to mow, I don’t have to water, I don’t have to trim,” she says. Her water bill has gone from $80-$90/month to $20. But then again, you could always just spray paint your lawn, too.

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