“How Green Was My Valley”?

About 40.5 million acres of land are used for lawns in the United Sates. About 300 million acres of land are used for harvested crops each year in the United States. American homeowners spent about $2.1 billion in 2001 for over 30,000 tons of herbicides (i.e., Roundup), insecticides, fungicides, etc., for their lawns. Lawn care pesticides kill about 7 million birds in the US each year. American farmers spent about $7.4 billion on the same in 2001. This is according to EPA estimates. (2001 is the last year for which they have published stats.) The lion’s share of the difference is that farmers use a lot more herbicide. Farmers have an additional 140 million acres in fallow and out of rotation cropland for a total of about 440 million acres. So US homeowners spent an average of about four times as much per acre on these toxins than did farmers. US residential use of these chemicals alone accounts for nearly 7% of the world market. This is more than a little out of proportion, just to have a patch of green around our castles. 

Then there is the whole issue of fertilizers. We use over 3 million tons annually on lawns. Over $5 billion per year is spent on fossil fuel derived fertilizers. Then there is the problem of gas powered mowers. The average gas powered mower emits as much pollution while mowing an acre of grass as driving a car 50 miles. Lawn mowers accounts for 7% smog causing particulate; and you are walking right behind it. 800 million gallons of gas are used each year for mowing lawns, of which an estimated 17 million gallons are spilled on the ground. (The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons, just for comparison.) According to the EPA, America uses an average of 7 billion gallons of water each day to water its lawns; over half of which is wasted due to overwatering and overspray. It always frustrated me, as a kid growing up in Golden Valley, that the more we would fertilize and water the lawn, the more we would have to mow it. It seemed to me that we could save all kinds of time by not fertilizing and watering. 

How about the dangers to life and limb? A number of these pesticides and fertilizers have been shown to increase risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer, birth defects, fetal death, etc., according to the Ontario College of Family Physicians: Pesticides Literature Review. Every year, about 75,000 people are seriously injured in lawn mower accidents in the US, including 10,000 children. 25,000 accidents result in an amputation. OK. Have I scared you enough? Just leave the lawn alone for a while.

I’ll get back to it with some positive, greener alternatives. I promise.