Campaigner is frustrated at popularity of artificial grass

A SHARP RISE in the popularity of plastic grass has seen it starting to blanket the island’s gardens, much to the frustration of local environmental campaigners.

The covering is marketed as a low-maintenance alternative to natural grass.

The new trend has dismayed Madeleine Norman, of Plastic Free Guernsey.

‘Nature isn’t perfect,’ she said.

‘If you have grubs in your lawn, they’ll attract birds and plenty of other good things that are part of the natural environment.’

Miss Norman said she recognised gardening firms were meeting rising demand from the public and said she hoped to influence people’s choices.

‘We’d like to nip this in the bud,’ she said.

‘Many people spoke about making connections with nature during lockdown but this can be very easily lost.

‘Little gardens here and grass banks there might seem like small things in the global context but if every person just gives up and goes down the plastic route, where will it end?’

Nick Russell, who runs his own turf and landscaping business, said he had seen huge spike in demand in recent years.

‘It is extremely popular these days,’ he said.

‘From where it’s come from, which was four years ago with us doing nothing, to where we are now, it’s definitely big.

Nick Russell of Turf and Landscaping has said that he has seen a huge rise in demand for homeowners requesting artificial grass for their lawns. (Picture by Adrian Miller, 29484404)

‘I’ve got two men, full-time now, laying artificial. That’s all they do, day in, day out. It’s probably 40% of our workload now.’

This demand comes despite his cheapest artificial turf costing £18 per metre, against £5 for his natural turf.

Mr Russell identified several reasons for the sudden increase in interest.

‘It isn’t easy looking after a natural lawn,’ he said.

‘The pesticides have been taken away. There’s leatherjackets, chafer grubs – they can wipe out a lawn in a season – so a lot of people have got fed up of natural lawns.’

Bernie Goncalves runs Bernie’s Gardening Services. He said that he always advised people with big gardens to go for natural grass.

However, he said he had also seen a rise in the popularity of fake grass among those with small gardens.

‘The place I’ve just been to has only about six or seven square metres and it’s too shady,’ he said.

‘It has sun only in the morning, so you’ll never grow anything.’

Mr Goncalves said artificial turf was also being used by people living right by the sea, because sea spray could affect grass lawns and damage them.

Mr Russell said he felt the product came in for unfair criticism compared with other uses of plastic materials, especially from people putting negative comments about plastic lawns on his social media feeds.

‘If I posted up on my Facebook page a picture of us taking up somebody’s lawn and putting it down to gravel, we’d put a plastic membrane underneath the gravel, which is totally commonplace. And that doesn’t get a comment, which is weird.

‘It’s all down to personal preference. I serve both sides so I’m not biased. It’s a different product.

‘I’m not saying it’s better. If it stopped selling today, I’d just sell more natural grass.’

The Soil Farm’s Sasha Marsh campaigns actively against the use of fake grass and described its use as ‘devastatingly convenient’.

‘When artificial grass is used to replace a lawn or, increasingly, to wrap an earth bank, the effect on the soil eco-system and habitats above ground are devastating,’ she said.

‘Typically, the ground will be compacted prior to fitting, which, coupled with the absence of living roots in the soil, will kill soil microbes and reduce its ability to retain moisture, increasing run-off. The area will no longer sequester any carbon from the atmosphere, nor will it provide much- needed habitat.’

Mr Russell said plastic lawns were usually guaranteed to retain their colour for seven to 10 years, but he believed they would typically last much longer.

He admitted wear and tear was not the only reason for some customers to dispose of their artificial grass.

‘Within three years we’ve gone back and refitted with a different type of grass because they like the look of the new one,’ he said.

He said he had so far taken up two plastic lawns, both of which had been repurposed within his own commercial premises.

Waste prevention and recycling officer Tina Norman-Ross said the product cannot currently be recycled and has to go into residual waste.

‘Recycling artificial grass is a technically difficult process,’ she said, ‘because the blades of grass and the cloth to which the blades are attached are made of plastic while the underlayer is usually made of latex.

‘These different materials first have to be separated before the artificial grass carpet can be recycled.

‘Separating the different materials is an expensive process and most recycling companies do not have the technical capacity required for this.’

‘That said, the manufacturers recognise there is a problem and are working towards simplifying the manufacturing process. This should result in artificial grass becoming more widely accepted for recycling in the future, albeit that is still only likely to be through a specialist recycler.’

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