50 Animal Pictures You Need To See Before You Die The Environmental Cost of US Lawns

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The Environmental Cost of US Lawns

According to a recent article published by Science Daily, “Using census data, satellite imagery, aerial photographs and computer simulations, a NASA scientist estimated that turfgrass is the single largest irrigated crop in the United States United States”, which begs the question of what is environmental cost? When we use three times as much water to irrigate our lawns as we do to water our corn, it’s clear that we as a nation have a serious problem.

We can thank Cristina Milesi, an Italian remote sensing scientist at California State University-Monterey Bay and the NASA/Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California for this amazing but scary discovery. Using census data, satellite images and aerial photographs, Cristina was able to estimate the total amount of weed found in the contiguous 48 states. Computer simulations are used to estimate the environmental impact of maintaining all those lawns.

Exactly how much of the United States is dedicated to Lawns or Turf Grass?

According to Cristina’s study about 128,000 square kilometers or nearly 32 million acres of the United States are covered with grass. This officially makes turfgrass our nations largest irrigated crop. Put together, we have enough turf grass in the United States to create a single lawn large enough to cover the entire state of Kentucky, or 40,411 square miles.

How much money is spent on lawn maintenance in the US?

Lawn care in the United States is big business—while estimates vary from a 2002 Harris Poll suggesting that as a nation we spend $28.9 billion annually. To put it in a personal perspective that translates to about $1,200 per family.

It’s just our lawns, how much water can they use?

No matter how attached you are to your lawn, it’s important to understand that between 50-70% of residential water in the United States is used for landscaping – most of it simply to water lawns. 50-70% of our residential water use translates to about 10,000 liters of water in the summer per 1,000 square meter lawn.

Do lawns provide any environmental benefits?

At one level – Yes. In fact, naturally maintained organic lawns can even act as an effective carbon sink (more so than chemically treated lawns). Lawns along with trees provide the following benefits:

  • They help combat the urban “heat island” effect.
  • They ensure a certain level of oxygen conversion
  • They provide particulate level filtration of the air

While lawns offer some limited environmental benefits due to the amount of water and chemicals we use to maintain them, we also need to understand the environmental cost.

The environmental cost of American lawns

If using 50-70% of our residential water to simply water our lawns isn’t scary enough, then consider the following facts from the Safe Pest Control Project:

  • 78 million households in the United States use garden pesticides
  • $700 million is spent annually on pesticides for lawns in the US
  • 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are added to US lawns each year
  • We use three times more pesticides on our lawns per acre than on our crops

We’re not just wasting water, a previously limited commodity, so are we literally poisoning our environment. By spreading the toxins found in common garden pesticides, we are doing an amazing amount of ecological damage.

The damage caused by US grass is not limited to pesticides, as a nation we use more 58 million liters of petrol when you mow our lawns. At $2.75 per gallon, which is not available in my area, that is $159,500,000 worth of gasoline. A single lawnmower can create as much pollution in one hour as a car driven for twenty miles.

Lawnmowers aren’t the only environmental threat—the ever-present leaf blower emits about twenty-six times the carbon monoxide and forty-nine times the particulate matter of a new light vehicle.

The Human Element

As we spray literally millions of pounds of pesticides and other lawn chemicals around our homes each year, it should be clear that the toxins will enter our food chains and/or water tables, then eventually us.

Consider the fact that 100% of fish found in urban areas contain at least one pesticide. Additionally, according to Jason Phillip of EcoLocalizer, of “30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 11 are lethal to bees.” He continues with the fact that “approximately 7 million birds die annually from exposure to lawn care pesticides.” If our pesticides have migrated to local fish populations, why should we believe they haven’t migrated to us? If our pesticides are toxic to a variety of animals, why wouldn’t they at least be toxic to humans on some level? According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, 1/7 of people have had their health adversely affected in some way by lawn pesticides.

As adults we may be less sensitive to lawn pesticides, but both children and pets are at particularly high risk due to their size and proximity to the ground. Children are more at risk because of their state of physiological development. The dangers posed by pesticides to children have been documented by numerous studies, including those from Yale University and the Mt. Sinai.

How can I create a safe lawn for my family?

If you want to create a “safe lawn,” there is a non-profit advocacy group aptly titled “SafeLawns for a Healthier Planet” that has given itself the mission of “educating society about the benefits of lawn care and responsible gardening environmental”. , and effect a quantum shift in consumer and industry behavior.”

You can find lots of useful information in the form of news, event updates and helpful how-to videos at:

  • http://www.safelawns.org/

An important initiative sponsored by SafeLawns for a healthier planet that I would encourage everyone to participate in is the SafeLawns Million Acre Challenge. The goal of this initiative is to encourage participants to pledge to “commit to caring for your lawn in an environmentally friendly manner by eliminating synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, using push and/or electric mowers, and watering and planting with responsability”.

If you would like to take part in the SafeLawns Million Acre Challenge then visit:

  • [http://www.safelawns.org/Million-Acre-Challenge.cfm]

While the United States may be in love with its green lawns, the time for change has come. Even our own government is taking steps towards more sustainable gardening practices. In the fall of 2007, SafeLawns for a Healthier Planet along with the National Parks Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency began maintaining a 4.3-acre central section of the National Center in Washington, DC in a non-toxic and environmentally friendly. Isn’t it time we all followed suit? Together we can create a safer, less polluted, non-toxic environment.

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