Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Green Lawns are Hard on the Environment

FD: hey. I need to print this and distribute it to my neighbors who complain about my "green" lawn care.

Green Lawn Lawns are big business in the United States, with American homeowners spending millions of dollars and many hours manicuring the lawn.

But are these showcase thatched patches an environmental hazard?Water is in short supply, yet 30 percent of East Coast water usage and 60 percent of West Coast water usage goes to watering lawns.

Americans pour 10 times more chemicals on their lawns than farmers use in their fields,making lawns toxic for wildlife, soil microorganisms and earthworms. These chemicals leach into the ground and pollute local water supplies.

Up to one-third of bagged household waste going to our landfills comes from lawn trimmings and leaves raked from yards.Traditional gas-powered lawn mowers are responsible for 5 percent of the nation's air pollution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Even the innocuous gasoline-powered string trimmer emits 21 times more emissions than the typical family car, while a gas-powered leaf blower can emit up to 34 times more, according to Eartheasy.com.

All this adds up to about 800 million gallons of gas burned each year in the quest for the perfect patch. What's worse, about 17 million gallons of that fuel doesn't quite make it into the mower tank because it is spilled on the ground. That's more than the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989, and chances are that most homeowners fail to clean it up. If that spilled fuel is left to evaporate into the air, it turns into smog-forming ozone when cooked by heat and sunlight and seeps into the water supply.If your mower is powered by a two-cycle engine, it releases between 25 percent and 30 percent of its oil and gas unburned into the air, along with particulate matter, carbon dioxide and other ingredients of smog. When breathed, this unhealthy contributes to cancer, and damages our hearts, lungs, and immune systems.

Want lessen the environmental impact of your lawn?

The "greenest" thing you can do is convert your lawn to a vegetable garden and replace the turf with lovely raised beds of edible greens.

If that is too crunchy for your taste, how about trading in those gas guzzlers for the old-fashioned human-powered kind? Reel mowers are easier to use, quiet, non-polluting and you don't have to worry about spilling gas. With the money you save on gas alone, you could buy a good pair of clippers for the bushes and a scythe for weed whacking.If you want to take the work out of lawn care, consider investing in electric mowers and string trimmers.

Electric mowers range in price from $150 to $450, and the average cost in electricity to power the mower for one year is about $5, with no spilled gas and lower emissions. Propane-powered lawn equipment is a good choice when your lawn is the size of a golf course.Use less water by catching rainwater in a barrel and attaching a spigot to the bottom of it. You can set up a drip irrigation system that delivers this rainwater to your lawn. Water your lawn early in the morning when less water will evaporate in the sun.

Run a fountain pump from your bathtub out the window, and reuse your bathwater to water your lawn.Leave grass clippings on the lawn instead of using chemical fertilizers. This keeps yard waste out of landfills and cycles the nutrients from your lawn back into the soil. It also provides a little mulch so that your lawn needs less watering.

Use your brain instead of herbicides. If your lawn has dandelions, then your soil has a high pH level. Lower it with sulfur, or spot treat individual dandelions or poison ivy with a shot of vinegar.Set up a compost pile, or buy a composter for leaves and lawn clippings. Some municipalities won't allow yard waste in municipal landfills. Why waste a good thing? Compost instead.

Use natural fertilizers instead of chemicals. Corn gluten will add nitrogen to your soil as well as kill weed seedlings. Use your composted yard waste and vegetable trimmings to build healthy soil on your lawn.

Shawn Dell Joyce is a sustainable artist and activist living in a green home in the Mid-Hudson region of New York. Contact her by e-mail Shawn@ShawnDellJoyce.com.


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