#15: Healthy Communities think about sustainable lawn care.

Lawn Care Follies

From the inexplicable to the inexcusable...

As I was jogging past the old Brandon Mental Hospital Cemetery, on the road east of 1st St. North from the Assiniboine Community College grounds, I watched two workers trimming the hedge that fronts the Cemetery. They were using gas-powered hedge clippers. They were noisy. They looked heavy and they smelled bad. I mean the machines, but I can’t vouch for the workers. It didn't look like much fun.

And I wondered...

How much longer would it take to do the job with old-fashioned arm-powered hedge clippers, like the ones I used to use on my hedge? A little longer I decided, maybe even twice as long.

I also thought, a bit selfishly, about how it had made my outing a little less pleasant. I considered the weight they were carrying, and the noise, and the fumes, the pollution, the noise pollution, and I wondered if they were enjoying their job. Maybe a little arm exercise wouldn't be a bad thing? Maybe doing it the old fashioned way might actually be more pleasant? But it would take more time and thus cost more.

I jogged on, up to the crossroads and turned back, and I watched some more.

Then I wondered why they were trimming the hedge. It didn't look that bad to me. Is it important for a graveyard to have a nicely manicured hedge?

I guess that naturally growing bushes are somehow disrespectful of the dead? Unruly leafage is a bad thing in and of itself.

But even so, I had been by it and visited it many times. I’ve never stopped and said to myself, “They really need to trim that hedge.”

Whose idea was it to trim that hedge anyway?

The result of all these womderings (and wanderings) is that I realized that labour - saving devices don't always save us time. They let us do more in that time, but sometimes they encourage us to do more stuff that ddidn't need to be done in the first place while making the "work" less healthy for the worker, the neighbours, and the planet.

I made it back our condo complex without any further troubling or puzzling thoughts. We don’t have any hedges here, but we have some lawn. And by coincidence I got to witness some more lawn care.

Two workers were using gas powered weed whippers to trim along the base of the building opposite us. Apparently a few stray blades of grass against the foundation is troubling to some. Then they each fired up power mowers and dealt with the lawn. Except that there wasn’t much grass there. It was newly planted and wasn’t off to a very good start. The mowing was actually bad for it. I could not distinguish where they had mowed from where they hadn’t. It was obvious to my untrained eye that neither operation was needed, but, full disclosure here; I’m not a professional.

Of course they were doing this work because it was Tuesday. It was the calendar, not the lawn conditions, that were the determining factor. That’s the way lawn care companies seem work. You contract for mowing and you get mowing – whether you need it or not.

It was the same reason that the hedge trimmers were out there disturbing my peaceful morning run.

So… what is it with the lawn care nuts? No matter how many feature in articles “Home and Garden” magazine tell us not to cut grass too short, no matter how many newspaper features advise us not to waste water by over watering and by Cutting The Grass Too Short, everywhere you look, someone is riding on a pollution spewing, noisy, riding mower chopping the grass down to its very roots. I repeat. What is it? What makes them tick? 

Two things: some sort of anal-retentive lawn care neatness disorder, perhaps blended with childhood trauma based on an irrational fear of leafiness, and of course; the traditional boys-with-toys syndrome: Have power mower – must use…Vroom-vroom.

One has only to watch a few Canadian Tire TV ads to understand the importance of lawn care to our collective emotional well-being.

Obsession is too vague a term.

All across our city and across our province – you can’t avoid it. The sound of gas powered lawn machinery.

Maybe it's because my wife and I walk a lot more these days as opposed to driving. We notice it. And see it. I’ve watched workers on huge mowers speed across ground that could easily have been left un-mowed or left for another week. No doubt they had a schedule to keep.

I’ve watched the same thing in Provincial Parks.

And even worse than the mania for short grass is the mania for flawless edges and trim. I’ve watched the lawn-care crew at our building waste an entire afternoon on needless trimming, all the while ignoring the weeds in the flower beds they were passing by.

That's interesting in that it contrasts the two dynamics driving excessive lawn care.  Homeowners are usually driven by a balance of both forces, lawn care obsession married to the love of power tools. They will even pull weeds if the have to - if no chemical or mechanical mean is available. But lawn care workers, especially those working at low pay for lawn-care companies, have no motivation other than their natural preference for using power tools whenever possible.

Our excessive maintenance of lawn is one of our most environmentally unsound habits. Not content with our over-sized climate controlled homes and shopping malls, we have determined to engineer the great outdoors as well. We’ve decided to make our lawns a mere extension of our wall-to-wall carpet.

There are options, of course. And even if we are determined to have some conventional lawn – there are less noisy and more environmentally responsible electric tools to help us. Yet I’ve had people tell me they wouldn’t by an electric mower because dealing with the extension cord was too troublesome.

Let our grandchildren deal with the environmental mess we’ve made.

Some Fun Lawn Care facts…

(From: Mowing the Lawn Is Bad For Your Health, by Nikki Fotheringham – Huffington Post: 07/11/2015)

Mowing a lawn produces the same pollution as driving a car between 160 and 320 kilometers. Annually, gas-powered lawn mowers use 580 million gallons of gasoline. Unfortunately a portion of that gets wasted as fuel spillage.

The mowers themselves have to be replaced and maintained.

Lawns are often treated with artificial fertilizers and pesticides or herbicides to remove unwanted dandelions and other weeds. When your family and pets walk or play on the lawn, those chemicals get absorbed through the skin.

There are 26 different poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that you breathe in several grams of methane, nitrogen oxides and smoke particles as well as a pound or so of carbon monoxide.

More than 253,000 people were treated for injuries from lawn mowers in 2010.
Almost 17,000 of those injuries were to children under the age of 19.

The average lawnmower produces sounds that are 95 dB and above while the 'safe' sound level is 85 dB and below. That means that prolonged exposure to the sound of a lawn mower can significantly contribute to hearing loss.

Americans spend $40 Billion a year on Lawn Care - more than the GNP of Tunisia

They burn 800 million gallons of gas per year.

Using a gas-powered leaf blower for 1⁄2 hr. releases as much carbon as driving a car 7700 miles at 30 miles per hr.

We spill 17 million gallons of gas a year - 50% more than the Exxon Valdez spill

There are so many easy ways in which we can work towards a more healthy and health-giving world. Smarter lawn care is just one of them.