Shadows of a wooden picket fence in a front garden with artificial grass as a lawn and a red brick perimeter wall.

What is artificial grass?

Artificial grass, or turf, is a man-made surface of synthetic fibres made to look like natural grass. 

The material has commonly been used in sports arenas for decades but is now being used far more regularly for residential lawns.
Comparison between artificial green grass and natural yellow lawn.

Why is replacing real grass with artificial grass becoming more popular?

  • It does not need to be mowed with electric or fossil fuel mowers. 
  • It does not require watering, which is a serious consideration as the UK anticipates increasing water stress due to the climate crisis.
  • It does not require the use of potentially harmful fertilisers or herbicides.
  • It is drought resistant and eliminates puddling.
  • It stands up to heavy use.
However, the environmental issues caused from choosing to put down an artificial lawn far outweighs any of these potential benefits.

Why is artificial grass harmful to the environment?

  • Artificial grass does not provide any food for living creatures. It restricts access to the soil beneath for burrowing insects and to the ground above for soil dwellers such as worms.
  • It restricts access to natural materials like leaf litter and grass clippings – essential for feeding soil organisms like worms and microscopic animals and keeping the soil healthy.
  • Artificial grass reaches significantly greater temperatures than those reached by natural grass under the same weather conditions. Plastic lawns can overheat in hot weather making them unusable.
  • Artificial grass can contribute to global warming by absorbing significantly more radiation than living grass and, to a lesser extent, by displacing living plants that could remove carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.

Inevitably, if you are putting what is ostensibly a plastic film across the soil, you are reducing the amount of rainfall entering the soil, so it’s going to dry out. Artificial lawns also negatively affect soil health as they limit the supply of both air and water to the soil beneath them, which impacts the tiny organisms that live in the soil as a result”

Is artificial grass bad for the environment?, Goodhouse Keeping, April 2024

Mick HanleyMick Hanley
Associate Professor in Plant-Animal Interactions

Barrow of hardcore being tipped on top of weed suppressant membrane to prepare the base for an artificial grass lawn
Artificial grass being installed, added next to wooden decking.
Artificial grass, turf installation alongside decking. 

Soil is a natural carbon store

  • especially if plants are growing in it, slowly taking carbon from the atmosphere and putting it back into the plants and the ground. Removing a large area of planting that is actively locking carbon into the ground releases that locked carbon back into the atmosphere.
  • Artificial grass creates a large carbon footprint during a journey that includes the manufacturing, transportation and installation of the product.
  • Replacing soil with sand to create a stable bed for artificial grass releases more carbon dioxide stored in the earth.
  • Artificial grass is more likely to cause surface run off after significant rainfall which may contribute to flooding.
Rolls of artificial grass
Laying an artificial lawn
Artificial lawn in a small garden in East Yorkshire in June

Artificial grass is made from polyethylene

  • polypropylene or nylon (polyamide), and fragments from this material can make their way into the soil, and beyond, in the form of microplastic pollution.
  • The shelf life for artificial grass is estimated to be 10-20 years and the product is difficult to reuse. Although it can be recycled, this is not easy and can only be done at specialist plants after a specific cleaning process.
  • Artificial grass is not totally maintenance free. It still needs to be cleaned of litter and moss growth, potentially replacing mowing with vacuuming.
  • We lose the tactile and sensory benefits of real grass. Children are able to sit and play on a soft lawn, make a daisy or dandelion chain, and pluck a blade of grass to whistle with. 
  • Artificial grass alternatives, such as natural bark chips, are easy to maintain and provide a softer surface than artificial grass and reduce the possibilities of friction burns.
A wild garden with a grass mowed lawn path

The benefits of a natural lawn

  • Grass, like all living plants, takes up carbon dioxide and releases oxygen.
  • A natural lawn acts as an air filter, trapping and absorbing smoke, dust, and pollutants that would otherwise be breathed in by us.
  • A natural lawn creates an ecological barrier between your house and the street.
  • Lawns are a home for beetles, other insects and worms, and they attract birds such as starlings that feed on the invertebrates hidden below. 
  • Lawns can also provide seed for birds. Those of annual meadow grass, plantain, buttercup and dandelion are particular favourites.
  • Lawns improve water quality and prevents soil erosion.
  • Grass absorbs sound and reduces noise pollution.
  • Access to a natural lawn can reduce stress and improve wellbeing.

“Urban gardens are increasingly recognised for their potential to maintain or even enhance biodiversity.

“In particular the presence of large densities and varieties of flowering plants supports a number of pollinating insects whose range and abundance has declined as a consequence of agricultural intensification and habitat loss.”

Dr Mick Hanley, Associate Professor in Plant-Animal Interactions
An uncut lawn with wildflowers growing in the grass

Tips to create a wild lawn

  • Don't cut your grass every week.
  • Any area of short grass will act as a feeding area for birds. Longer grass provides shelter and egg-laying opportunities for the insects on which birds and other wildlife feed.
  • Welcome some weeds and let them flower. For instance, clover feeds the lawn with nitrogen.
  • Don't cut the lawn too short in summer; it will lose more water.
  • Lawns help rainwater to drain away.
  • Allow a patch of grass to grow and flower. It will attract birds, insects and invertebrates, and grass flowers are very pretty.    
  • No matter how brown your lawn becomes in summer, it will recover after rain. Water is a precious resource – don't waste it on the lawn.