Written by Kitty Doherty Published on 31 August 2023 ✔ Around one in ten UK homes has an artificial lawn✔ Artificial grass destroys ecosystems, leaches microplastics and emits CO2✔ Despite manufacturer claims, artificial grass is almost impossible to recycleMore and more UK residents are choosing to dig up their natural lawns and replace them with artificial grass.With its promise to be stress-free, picture-perfect and, according to manufacturers, eco-friendly, are artificial lawns the future?From plastic production to lasting habitat destruction, artificial grass is bad for the planet in more ways than one.This article explains artificial grass’ many environmental impacts and why it’s far more eco-friendly to invest in the lawn in front of you, unruly as it is. What's on this page? 01 What is artificial grass and who is buying it? 02 Why is artificial grass so popular? 03 Is artificial grass bad for the planet? 04 Artificial grass: FAQs What is artificial grass and who is buying it?Artificial grass is a man-made material manufactured from synthetic fibres and designed to imitate the function and appearance of natural grass.Lawns, sports arenas, and stadium pitches have used artificial grass for decades. But according to Google Trends, online searches for “artificial grass” grew by 185% over the previous year during the 2020 lockdown, as cooped-up consumers looked for ways to improve their local landscape.According to a 2022 survey by insurance company Aviva, as many as one in ten UK households have replaced their natural lawn with artificial grass and 29% of homeowners would consider switching from natural to synthetic.Major sports organisations frequently use fake grass to create reliably perfect pitches and arenas.It is also commonly used by schools, nurseries, and other institutions where outdoor playtime can wreak havoc on wild grass.In residential properties, the easy-to-care promise of artificial grass makes it popular among older or less-able people and those with shady gardens. Why is artificial grass so popular?It requires less maintenance than natural grassIt can reduce household water billsIt is durable and long-lastingIt looks perfect, all year roundThe main reason artificial grass is so popular is ease. An artificial lawn won’t need watering, weeding, or mowing.Fake grass consumers won’t have to buy seeds or deal with slippery mud, hidden creatures or uneven surfaces.It has an average lifespan of 7-15 years, and, unlike wild grass, artificial grass can withstand the physical impact of pets, children and natural weather shifts.On top of this, purchasing artificial grass guarantees consumers a pristine, green-looking lawn all year round without spending hours in the garden or paying someone to do the work for you.In recent years, artificial grass manufacturers have found ways to make their synthetic grass cheaper, softer underfoot, and more realistic, further growing consumer demand. Is artificial grass bad for the planet?Artificial grass is often advertised as eco-friendly because it doesn’t require water, electricity or fossil-fuel-powered lawnmowers.Nor does it require purchasing fertilisers or weedkillers that contain environmentally harmful chemicals.Nonetheless, the negative environmental impacts of artificial grass far outweigh its positives.Here are the top seven reasons artificial grass isn’t good for our planet and why wild is the way to go if you want an eco-friendly lawn.1. It produces a lot of plasticPlastic pollution is environmentally harmful for several reasons: it doesn’t biodegrade, harms wildlife, pollutes oceans, releases toxins into the earth, alters natural processes and habitats, and contributes to global warming. Artificial grass is entirely synthetic, including a top layer of nylon, polypropylene, or polyethene fibres and an infill rubber layer.Fake grass weighs around 1.42kg/metre, and the median UK garden size is 188 sq/m. Unsurprisingly, the plastic required to produce a whole artificial lawn is huge.Laying one artificial lawn is equivalent to using hundreds of thousands of plastic straws, which is not only a waste of plastic, but also an unnecessary carbon emission and use of fossil fuels. 2. It’s nearly impossible to recycleMany artificial grass companies misleadingly claim to make their lawns from 100% recyclable plastics. In 2022, the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) called for the complete removal of adverts that claim artificial grass is eco-friendly.Plastic needs to be completely clean and separate to be recycled. Artificial grass strands are bonded to the base of the turf, making it difficult to separate. And after years of use, removing all traces of grit, sand and soil from an artificial lawn is nearly impossible.Additionally, consumers must take artificial grass to specialised recycling centres. There are next to none of these in the UK.Most used artificial lawns end up in landfill sites, releasing environmental toxins for years.3. It leaves a significant carbon footprintArtificial grass has a sizable carbon footprint from production to transportation to installation. It also absorbs significantly more radiation than natural grass.Installing artificial grass requires removing a large area of wild soil and living plants, releasing previously locked carbon into the ground. During climate change and global warming, this is especially important to avoid.And crucially, artificial grass prevents natural grass from doing its essential job: removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.4. It contributes to biodiversity declineArtificial grass kills the soil life beneath it and causes irreparable damage to natural habitats and the wildlife they support. The surface beneath an artificial lawn can take five years to restore.A natural lawn is an essential part of a broader ecosystem. Grass and soil are home to millions of creatures, including snails and worms. They attract and feed other wildlife, like pollinators, birds, and mammals.A 2023 study by QUB (Queen’s University Belfast) found that almost half of the earth’s animal species are in decline. The UK is in a climate and biodiversity crisis, and replacing raw earth with artificial grass causes real damage to an already delicate ecosystem.5. It increases overall land temperaturesThe shade and transpiration provided by natural plants and grass means they have a cooling effect that makes them invaluable in cities, homes and during heat waves.Vegetation destruction occurs when an artificial lawn replaces a natural one. It alters how land releases and absorbs energy and increases land surface temperature.Artificial grass is also known to overheat during hot weather, making walking dangerous or impossible. It needs excessive water to cool down.6. It leaks dangerous chemicals into the environmentArtificial grass doesn’t last forever. Over time, it sheds microplastics into our environment and waterways, which leaks dangerous chemicals like toxic lead, PFAs and phthalates.These chemicals are absorbed by human skin and washed into neighbouring habitats during use.Because of its association with human disease, wildlife, and habitat destruction, microplastic leaching is a major concern to environmentalists.7. It increases flood riskReal lawns quickly drain water due to the soil surface beneath them.Although artificial lawns are supposed to allow drainage, it’s far slower and less effective because the surface beneath it must be compacted.Instead of being absorbed quickly, water runs off artificial grass, increasing the risk of flooding if too much rain falls at once.With extreme weather events worldwide, the UK’s flood bill could increase by as much as 20% and cause severe risk to land and public safety.SummaryReplacing natural grass with artificial grass has a devastating environmental impact that continues years after removal.Opt for a wild lawn if you want the most eco-friendly garden possible. Wild lawns require less watering, cutting and weeding, host unique ecosystems and grow wild grass flowers.What’s more picture-perfect than that? Artificial grass: FAQs What is the downside of artificial grass? As well as destroying wildlife and habitats, artificial grass has a shorter-than-promised lifespan and overheats to the point of unusability in hot weather. Does artificial grass devalue a property? Despite its recent market popularity, artificial grass can be off-putting to many potential buyers, especially those who have children or desire an eco-friendly household. Can artificial grass be recycled? Recycling artificial grass requires each blade to be clean and separated and the lawn taken to a specialist centre, of which there are almost none in the UK – making artificial grass nearly impossible to recycle. Written by: Kitty Doherty Kitty has been writing about nationwide environmental issues and zero-waste lifestyles for over three years and is a passionate advocate for our planet. She recently joined The Eco Experts team and is here to bring you highly researched tips and guidance on living your most eco-friendly life.