When it comes to our lawns, we often only have one goal in mind -- to make them look good. So, it may come as a surprise that our lawn care practices influence much more than the greeness of our grass.
As climate change becomes a significant threat, research and attention has turned to our environmental footprint. Studies have found that the way we maintain our lawn can have a major environmental impact.
Factors such as lawn mowers, lawn equipment, and pesticides can indeed affect the environment around us. In fact, research has proven that one of the major contributors to climate change can be traced to the use of synthetic fertilizers.
Creating a sustainable lawn might seem like a daunting task, especially when there's already so many other things to consider. But, that's why we're here to help. And, with the right information, you'll have an environmentally friendly lawn in no time.
What are Synthetic Fertilizers?
Synthetic Fertilizers are man-made and composed of chemical, inorganic materials. They contain significant concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. This helps turf grass look green and healthy.
You'll find it easy to find a chemical fertilizer in your local grocery store. Up until recently, most fertilizer brands were made of synthetic materials.
Synthetic fertilizer is popular in the lawn care industry as it is easy to apply, cheap to purchase (most of the time), and immediately releases nutrients to the soil. However, despite these benefits, synthetic fertilizer can do a lot of harm to our environment.
How Do Synthetic Fertilizers Contribute to Climate Change?
The production of chemical fertilizers require a lot energy. For each ton of nitrogen made in synthetic fertilizer, carbon emissions can be as high as four to six tons.
Furthermore, synthetic fertilizers tend to have more nitrogen than plants need.
When nitrogen is not used by grass, it lingers in the soil. Soil microbes turn this extra nitrogen into nitrous oxide gas (N2O), which is then released into the air and atmosphere.
N2O is a major contributor to global warming. It makes up almost 50% of the US' agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
Why is this bad? Well, N2O is found to be 265 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. This combination of CO2 and N2O dangerously depletes the ozone layer.
Thus, limiting nitrous oxide emissions at any amount will go a long way.
Synthetic fertilizers also may have adverse affects on nearby water sources. One reason for this is that leftover nitrogen in soil pollutes groundwater and runs off into nearby water bodies.
This can impact a surrounding ecosystem in more ways than contaminated water. When water is high in nitrogen, it triggers eutrophication -- a process that results in a "dead zone" where no living things can survive.
Loss of biodiversity, a result of an unstable ecosystem, is a large factor in the acceleration of climate change. Thus, it is essential that water pollution is prevented.
Last of all, when synthetic fertilizer is applied to soil, it can kill a great portion of microorganisms. Microorganisms hold an important role in the environment. Some of their duties include breaking down contaminants and organic matter into usable forms for plants.
Without these microorganisms, native plants in an ecosystem may struggle. This can result in the loss of biodiversity.
Synthetic vs. Organic Fertilizers
What are Organic Fertilizers?
Unlike synthetic fertilizers, organic fertilizers are made from materials that occur "organically" -- from natural plant and animal sources.
Why are they better for the environment?
Organic fertilizers have much lower concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Thus, when applied, there is less threat that your plants will be overfed and the soil will be contaminated.
Furthermore, organic fertilizer is "slow-releasing." Instead of immediately supplying all available nutrients to the grass, nutrients will slowly be dissolved into the soil. As a result, there is a smaller chance of leakage and run off into water and surrounding areas.
(Plus, an added bonus of "slow-releasing fertilizer" is that is convenient! The fertilizer lasts longer, meaning it requires less frequent application.)
Another important difference between organic and synthetic fertilizers is their manufacturing process. According to the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, the production of organic fertilizer contributes a significantly smaller amount to carbon dioxide emissions. This can go a long way in slowing down the process of climate change.
Additional Practices to Keep in Mind
Another contributor to climate change is lawn equipment. The majority of lawn equipment, specifically leaf blowers and lawn mowers, is powered by gasoline.
Research gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that gas-powered lawn mowers contribute to five percent of all air pollution in the United States. In addition, this equipment requires around 800 million gallons of gas each year, and spills 17 million gallons as well.
To do your part, we suggest that you opt for an electric mower and leaf blower. These do not run on gasoline and will contribute much less to air pollution.
Another sustainable practice we recommend is diversifying your ecosystem! Having less grass and more plants can have bring many benefits to the environment and your yard. This includes, but is not limited to, less water consumption, reduced lawn mower usage, and the introduction of valuable insects and organisms.
So no, lawns themselves do not cause climate change. However, our lawn care practices contribute to climate change in big ways. As a result, It is important that we are mindful of how we take care of our lawns!
And remember, climate change is not a problem that can be solved by one individual's actions. To see big steps in the right direction, standards need to be changed. This may happen through policy, social pressure, or economic pressure!
Do your part in advocating for more sustainable practices.