It has the color of straw and a similar texture. Completely devitalized, the real lawn imprisoned under an artificial grass is dried out and breaks between the fingers. Why is that? “Because a soil structure needs water and air”, says Charlotte Howard, landscaper and horticultural consultant.
“Worms and other organisms need to be able to come and go from the surface. They bring dead leaves underground, lots of things that nourish the soil, as well as air. If they cannot do this work, the soil becomes compacted. There is no air or movement, and nothing can pass through it. It’s not far from like concrete. While the quality of the soil is essential to our survival”she says.
Influencers and reality TV
It was in the United States, in the 1960s, that artificial lawns were born. Then, after paving the sports complexes where baseball and American football teams played, the product takes on a more natural look at the twilight of the 20th century.e century and goes beyond sport. “But it is a business that has exploded since the confinementsassures the landscaper. At home more often, people must have enjoyed their gardens more than usual. They wanted it to look like the hotels they used to go to, in Dubai or Spain.”
In recent years, the sarcastic myth of the « Great British Summer“, synonymous with periods of endless rain, sweaters on the shoulders, umbrellas in the bag and temperatures below 20°C, is beginning to fade. This summer, the heat wave did not spare the United Kingdom, where temperatures above 40°C were recorded for the first time on July 19. The British are therefore spending more and more time outdoors and the companies that make their butter on the false lawn have announced, since 2019, sales increases of around 60% to 200%.
According to Charlotte Howard, the core target would be « young families who aspire to some sort of social elevation and have a little money to spend ». Many British 30-somethings would thus follow the recommendations of influencers like Mrs Hinch, a lady who loves foundation and posting pictures of her house. “very clean, that she cleans all the time”while promoting its own line of cleaning products.
« She had a synthetic lawn laid by a company called LazyLawn [«gazon flemmard», ndlr] and everyone wanted a Mrs. Hinch garden”, says the landscaper. Artificial grass is also an integral part of the decorations of Love Island, reality show very popular in England and comparable to Marseilles in France.
More nectar for
“For these people, gardening is an old thing., synthesizes Charlotte Howard. It’s corny. They seem totally disconnected from nature. My hairdresser is like that. She’s in her twenties and she explained to me that she likes makeup that looks expensive and looks artificial. It’s a whole class of people who like fake things. »
Others simply appreciate the ease. Especially young parents. “Many new properties are currently being built with very small gardens with poor soils, inform the expert. People don’t know what to do with it. » And this is where marketing comes in: “Do you have children? A dog? Are your lives tiring? Do you work all day before bringing the kids to soccer and dancing? Save yourself the mud and the gardening!”
These are all reasons why the fake lawn business is booming. In 2021, it was estimated that 8 million square meters of artificial grass were sold in the UK. And it’s an understatement to say that it comes at a less than ideal time in history: since the 1930s, 97% of wildflower meadows have disappeared from the English and Welsh countryside.
That’s three million hectares less for pollinating insects, whose population has been declining since the mid-1980s. today use tiny drones to pollinate their flowers. “So much nature is being lost that individual gardens are becoming important for wildlife”notes Charlotte Howard. Smothering floors under plastic doesn’t help, but many don’t seem to care.
On August 6, around twenty Extinction Rebellion activists demonstrated in front of a McDonald’s sign in Harringay, in North London. Reason: the fast-food chain had just cut down eleven trees in order to cover the ground with artificial grass. Councilor in Childwall, a suburb of Liverpool, Alan Tormey couldn’t believe it: “McDonald’s said that by 2030, the group will have ensured that it no longer contributes to deforestation. They say they are working with farmers to improve soil health and they are going to cut down trees! I felt that was a lie.”
A few hours later, he was tabling a motion at his city’s municipal councilexplaining that artificial turf is a source of large volumes of plastic, that it cannot always be recycled, that microplastics pollute the ground, that it has a terrible carbon footprint, does nothing for wildlife and can overheat to the point of becoming unusable.
“One day, when it was only 26°C, a customer who wanted to remove artificial grass from her home measured her temperaturesays Charlotte Howard. It rose to 60°C. Plastic melts at 80°C, we are not far from it! So, to cool it, people water it… We swim in the absurd.
Yes, it is absurd. Especially when you know that producing a square meter of artificial turf would cost 3,750 liters of water, and the drought that hit Europe this summer has apparently not heard of Brexit: on August 9, the English south-east had already experienced one hundred and forty-four days with little to no rain in 2022, something that hasn’t happened since the 1970s.
“Let your lawn grow!”
What to do? While the city of Newcastle decided to no longer install artificial turf in July, Alan Tormey calls, in his motion, for a tax on poses and limitations on its use, in his city and then throughout the United Kingdom. For her part, Charlotte Howard proposes that the installation of artificial turf should be subject to a sort of authorization similar to a building permit.
“In certain circumstances, it can be authorized. Why not. They say it can be convenient for some people with disabilities and we can respect that. That said, even in the event of a disability, there are other solutions. It costs about 3,000 pounds [3.400 euros, ndlr] to lay artificial turf that can last fifteen years. It costs less to pay a gardener to mow real grass. Or, let your lawn grow! Personally, I only mowed three times this year…”
In the UK, the No Mow May movement indeed invites cities and individuals to let their lawns grow during the month of May, in order to let the plants prosper and thus offer enough nectar to pollinating insects.
After coming up against a conservatism rooted in outdated traditions, the idea is becoming increasingly popular: in some neighborhoods, the bad neighbor becomes the one who mows his lawn, rather than the one who lets it grow. « We can hope that the fashion for artificial turf will pass quicklywants to believe Charlotte Howard. But it has to pass really quickly, if we don’t want to end up with millions of additional hectares covered in green plastic. »