Artificial lawn grass is having a devastating effect on the environment

Artificial lawn grass is having a devastating effect on the environment

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Open Letter To The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

​​Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to express our horror at the growing demand for artificial turf/plastic grass – and to implore you to immediately ban its sale. As Secretary of State and head of DEFRA, you have stated that your aim is to “play a major role in people's day-to-day life… to make our air purer, our water cleaner, our land greener and our food more sustainable”. 

Plastic grass has no place in these ambitions, for the following reasons. 

It is a biodiversity disaster

Plastic grass blocks access to the soil to creatures that live both above and below it. Solitary bees cannot burrow into the earth. Other insects and wildlife – from butterflies to birds and hedgehogs - are deprived of food they would find in a natural environment. Garden material such as leaf litter cannot reach the soil, where it would normally feed important organisms such as worms. Soil is a hidden ecosystem teeming with billions of macrofauna, creatures and microbes that keep the earth healthy. It is the building block of life – and plastic grass reduces it to dead dirt. 

We simply cannot afford this cavalier approach. Numerous studies have shown British wildlife is in a perilous state. Almost 50 years of data on insect populations demonstrate severe decline, with one study finding a 60% plunge in flying insect numbers since 2004. Other research has found 41% of all UK species have declined in a similar timeframe, with 1 in 4 of our mammals at risk of extinction. The recent announcement that the Government is withholding its latest report on biodiversity suggests the situation may be even more serious than we know. 

While there are multiple reasons for the biodiversity crisis, all our domestic and public spaces count. We should be taking every possible step to reverse this shocking decline and encourage our wildlife to thrive.  

It uses large volumes of plastic that will last for centuries

We’ve banned plastic straws, stirrers and cotton-buds, and the public is increasingly conscious about avoiding single-use plastic bottles and carrier bags. Yet huge amounts of plastic are being used in artificial turf. It’s made of fossil fuel-derived materials including polyethylene, polypropylene and nylon, which won’t break down for centuries. But artificial turf still degrades, releasing microplastics into the soil. 

And the chemicals contained in plastic grass are a serious concern. Tests show artificial turf contains highly toxic PFAs, which build up in the human body. These chemicals have been linked with cancer, endocrine disruption and lowered childhood immunity. Scientists warn we have breached the planetary boundary of diffuse chemicals in all environments - soil, air and water. We’re still learning about the full effects on our health. 

 It won’t be recycled

Plastic lawns may last for around 10 years but always need to be replaced – the fake turf is then unlikely to be recycled for technical reasons: the materials are usually bound together, and it contains a lot of ground-in debris by the end of its life-span as a ‘lawn’, two factors that rule out recycling. And that’s even if we had enough specialist recycling centres needed for huge rolls of fake lawn (council facilities are unable to deal with it). 

Given its unsuitability for recycling, artificial turf is likely to end up in an incinerator, churning out highly toxic chemicals and ramping up carbon emissions as it’s burnt. Communities in places with incinerators will be at the mercy of these effects. 

 It contributes to climate change

In addition to the large amounts of carbon produced during its production, artificial grass exacerbates the catastrophic effects of global temperature rises, from heatwaves to flooding. 

Grass helps to absorb heat through photosynthesis. Its plastic alternative amplifies the heat island effect, increasing land surface temperatures by 40% or more and heating air temperature. In heatwaves – which scientists say we will experience much more frequently from now on – these effects will be a disaster for human health. 

Plastic lawns are also catastrophic when it comes to heavy rainfall. Artificial turf absorbs very little water compared to its natural counterpart, resulting in increased run-off. Given we are likely to see more flash flooding, the prevalence of fake grass is a huge worry. In addition, this run-off contains microplastics, carrying them straight into our already polluted streams, rivers and seas. 

Recent months have demonstrated in a very real way that we are now in climate breakdown. We need to be doing everything in our power to mitigate the worst of the effects and to adapt to the changes already baked in. Research shows grass lawns are very efficient at absorbing heat, cooling air temperatures and helping water to drain. Again, artificial lawns have no place here. We need mixed landscapes, prioritising real trees, bushes and grass. 

It overheats

Plastic grass can heat up to the extent it becomes dangerous. In this summer’s heatwave, children at a primary school in East Anglia were sent home because the artificial turf in the playground reached 50C. On social media, homeowners were swapping tips on keeping plastic lawns cool, such as hosing them down, despite the lack of rainfall and imminent drought.

It creates disconnect with nature

Natural spaces are known to have benefits for our mental and physical wellbeing, both currently threatened by the cost of living crisis. Humans need to feel connected to nature - this, in turn, encourages us to care more for it. Many in the UK live in built-up areas with limited access to natural areas, particularly those in poorer communities. Feeling plastic beneath our feet, rather than grass, reinforces the disconnect, which has been referred to as the ‘extinction of experience’. It does nothing to support wellbeing. 

You have stated that while you recognise the issues with artificial turf, you want to leave the decision to the consumer. However, the public is being bombarded with greenwashing. Wise to environmental concerns, the companies that produce plastic grass are spinning it as an eco-friendly choice – for instance, claiming it reduces the need to use pesticides, herbicides and mowers in gardens. One company’s promotional material even stated that one square metre of its treated plastic grass had similar air-purifying benefits to those of a mature tree. While this advertising was subsequently banned, it had been in the public domain for some time and these lies would have reached millions. Add to this the more subtly misleading factors – such as the nature-friendly names many companies are giving their plastic products – and it becomes clear consumers don’t have a real choice because they are not equipped with the correct information, either on the dangers of artificial turf or the benefits of biodiverse, living natural spaces.

So we are asking you to step up and take responsibility. If DEFRA genuinely plans “to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste”, you must ban sales of plastic grass in the UK immediately. It is hard to think of plastic waste that is more easily avoidable. This is an obvious step to take and an easy win for you. At the very least, we ask that you urgently run a campaign that educates the public on the problems with artificial turf, correcting the misconceptions the industry has created. There is no time to waste. 


Biodiversity problems

Plastic pollution

Recycling problems and incineration

Climate change and benefits of real trees and grass

Overheating plastic lawns

Nature disconnect



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