Do lawns pollute?

Anonymous asked this question on 8/7/2000:


I have to write an essay on the environmental issue. I think the environmental issue is lawns. It look nice to many people. However, lawns waste lots of water. People use fertilizer, bug control cause toxic pollution. Consequently, people got health danger. Well, I know only those things. Would you give me more ideas and how I can write the introduction, body and conclusion.


JesseGordon gave this response on 8/7/2000:

I think you've got the two key issues: lawns use a lot of water and a lot of fertilizer.

There's also "noise pollution": I took my 3-year-old on a bike ride to the suburbs last Saturday morning and he noticed that every block had another lawnmower roaring away. After a few miles, he was categorizing the types of lawnmowers, because they were such a dominant part of the suburban landscape (we live in the city so he's not used to them). While 3-year-olds might like the excitement of noise, I found them to be intrusive. You can't escape their roar on any suburban block on any suburban summer weekend.

The water usage issue is certainly the most major aspect of lawns. Whenever there's a water shortage here (Massachusetts) the first thing that gets banned is automatic lawn sprinklers, then hand lawn watering.

The fertilizer issue is more a water pollution issue than a health issue (as you frame it). Yes, there's a potential health risk, but you'd have to roll around on a fertilized lawn right after it's fertilized. The more important issue is that the excess fertilizer runs off into streams when it rains (or into storm drains which end up in the nearest bay or lake). Then all that fertilizer is in the river or lake, and you get "algae blooms" which means the water turns green. The algae then use up all of the oxygen and the fish die. So regions with heavy fertilizer use often have problems maintaining their recreational and commercial fishing. It's more a problem with farm fields being fertilized, but lawns count too.

Yes, pesticides can be more of a health issue. People with small children generally should not let their kids play on the lawn after they spread bug sprays, until the next rain storm. Again, that's more of a big environmental problem on farms, where the scale is much bigger and the quantities of bug toxins are greater. The issue with lawns is that many bugs become "resistant" because casual lawn use encourages insects to evolve to withstand the pesticide in common use. Then you have to use more pesticide the next year, or it stops working entirely.

Another issue you might address is "suburban sprawl." Big lawns mean large properties in spread-out areas, which means they must use a car to do everything. Then mass transit fails because everyone has a car, and the next suburb is even more spread out. Al Gore has made this into a campaign issue -- see quotes from Nov & May 1999 at

As to how to write the intro, body, & conclusion:

Intro: Describe the five issues (water, fertilizer, pesticides, noise, & sprawl) in one two sentences each. You can use five "bullets" (little black circles) if you're writing it on a computer -- those always organize things well.

Body: Write a few paragraphs on each of the five issues. Discuss in detail what the issues are, and what the long-term effects are, and what the possible solutions are. You should have five sections here too, in the same order as the intro.

Conclusion: Consolidate all of the possible solutions into an outline of your ideas of what should be done about lawns.

Have fun! (I'd put a picture of a large fancy lawn on the cover too, to emphasize the "fun" part).

Return to index