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PLANTING THE SEEDS OF DESTRUCTION The Landscaping Obsession of America

Theo Diehl March 6, 2014

Table of Contents
Abstract ......................................................................................................................................................... 3 The History, Psychology, and Economics of Landscaping in America ........................................................... 3 Environmental Impacts ................................................................................................................................. 5 Fertilizer Production ................................................................................................................................. 5 Transportation .......................................................................................................................................... 6 Direct Effects ............................................................................................................................................. 7 Nonpoint Source Pollution .................................................................................................................... 7 Greenhouse Gases and Other Air Pollution .......................................................................................... 9 Conclusion ..................................................................................................................................................... 9 Works Cited ................................................................................................................................................. 11 Appendices.................................................................................................................................................. 13 Appendix 1: Calculation of Phosphorus Added to Soils .......................................................................... 13 Appendix 2: Calculation of CO2 Emitted During Trip from Newport, NJ to Millville, NJ While Driving a 1994 Ford Escort ..................................................................................................................................... 13

Abstract
This paper explains the environmental impact of home landscaping in America along with the psychological and societal factors that contribute to a mentality that necessitates the need for such aggressive landscaping. An emphasis will be put on the production of fertilizer, as the process involves the combination of several mined and synthesized minerals and requires a large amount of resources to successfully operate. The transportation of these resources to our homes will then be explained. Finally, the paper will describe several of the environmental impacts of activities associated with home landscaping and complications that they can pose to humans.

The History, Psychology, and Economics of Landscaping in America


The United States of America has a proudly embraced reputation for its principles of independence, hard work, and the physical and philosophical frontier. The rugged pioneer tending his open land is an experience that Americans hold close, and have attempted throughout the countrys recent history to recreate in the form of the lawn. After World War II, America experienced times of great prosperity, allowing many to move out of the crowded and sometimes dangerous cities and into the surrounding suburbs. Between 1940 and 1960, the percentage of Americans in single family homes jumped from 45 to 60 (Florida, 2013). Along with transition from an apartment to a whole house to ones self and family came the culture of a perfectly tended lawn to accompany a perfect house that was home to a perfect American family.

As of 2005, Americans tended to about 40 million acres of lawn throughout the year (EPA). To many, the act of tending to ones lawn is therapeutic: a way to get ones hands dirty and put in the hard work to get a payoff in the form of a homogenous green mat of success. For others, it is a spiritual experience, giving one the opportunity to nurture and help the grass grow into a more beautiful form. Regardless of the purpose, maintaining ones lawn has sometimes turned from a relaxing hobby to pass the time into a symbol of ones character and value as a human being. In suburbs and gated communities around the country, the lawn has taken on such an importance that if one fails to maintain the societal image of what their lawn should be looking like, they may receive warnings from a local code enforcement officer. If one is unfortunate enough to live in a community like Massapequa Park in Long Island, New York, they may face a $1000 fine if they let their lawn get too wild (Massapequa park passes, 2012). Even without the interaction of law enforcement, the pressure to maintain a beautiful lawn can arise from society in general. A study done in the journal Economic Geography showcased the ways that lawn care companies advertise their fertilizer, pesticide, and machinery to homeowners, portraying the lawn as a space reserved for the family to come together and enjoy each others time (Robbins & Sharp, 2009). In order to achieve this unity of family and nature, one simply has to drive to the store and buy their product. It is to the satisfaction of these emotional desires that the lawn care industry owes the majority of its success: and its success is pretty huge. Americans spend about $10.4 billion every year on sod and fertilizer (EPA, 2005) and spend $17 billion hiring somebody else to sod and fertilize for them (Ratliff, 2002). In 2009, the fertilizer manufacturing industry itself indirectly contributed 245,000 jobs and $57.8 billion in economic activity (Economic contributions), and

in 2006 the lawn power tools and equipment industry made $9 billion in sales (Lawn mowers, 2007). It is clear that the industry of landscaping is here to stay and will probably only continue to grow, but what of its effects on the environment? Surely the green space in front of our houses cant be doing that much harm. Or maybe the connection to from man to nature through his lawn is more tenuous than we thought.

Environmental Impacts
Fertilizer Production
To examine the overall impact of the landscaping industry on the environment, well start with the production of fertilizer. Most fertilizers consist of a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, as they are the three most important macronutrients plants utilize in order to grow (Fertilizer). Each of these substances are either synthetically produced or mined and refined into a usable form. Industrial nitrogen was once obtained through nitrate mines, but is now mostly synthesized using a technique called the Haber process (Romanowski, 2006). Basically, the process obtains nitrogen from the atmosphere by pumping huge amounts of natural gas and steam into a chamber then burned to remove the oxygen, leaving nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is finally removed to yield ammonia (NH3). This ammonia is generally converted into ammonium nitrate when being made for fertilizing purposes, because of its high nitrogen concentration (Romanowski, 2006). As previously mentioned, natural gas plays a large part in the process: 90%-of-the-total-cost large (Rich, 2006). Natural gas is generally obtained through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and has been a

source of heated debate between environmentally and economically concerned citizens throughout America for the past several years. Extraction can have negative environmental impacts, including groundwater contamination, freshwater depletion, and air contamination, in the area surrounding the mining site (Brown, 2007). Phosphorus and potassium are both utilized mainly in the form of mining. Phosphorus is obtained through the mining of phosphate rock. The rock is then converted into phosphorus, creating a byproduct known as phosphorogypsum, a hazardous waste material that is deposited in mountainous piles amounting to 30 million tons every year, according to the Sierra Club (Phosphate mining issues). Phosphates are generally strip mined, and with the United States being the largest producer of phosphate rock, this has created problems in the areas that the mining occurs. An example provided by the Sierra Club shows a region of mines in Florida known as Bone Valley that has irreversibly altered wetlands by draining them and destroying wild habitat in order to strip mine. Industrial potassium is utilized from potash, which is also mined and causes similar environmental problems to phosphate mines often through the destruction of natural lands and emissions from operations (Potash).

Transportation
When all of the components of fertilizer have been created or mined, they are sent to plants to be mixed and out of this process, the product of fertilizer is created. Once finished, the plant ships the containers out to stores and dealers around the nation. The same process follows for any other lawn care product that is created and distributed externally. The nearest store from which I can obtain the tools of lawn care is Home Depot in Vineland, NJ: a 13.3 mile

drive from my house in Newport, NJ. I own a 1994 Ford Escort, which on average gets a combined mileage of 26 mpg, city and highway (Gas mileage). According to the average levels of passenger vehicle CO2 emissions from the EPA, my car emits 520 pounds of CO2 during a trip there and back (See Appendix 2).

Direct Effects
Nonpoint Source Pollution The environmental problems created by the chemicals that are used in modern lawn maintenance are so grave that it is incredible that there are still no regulations on residential pesticide or fertilizer use. Every year, Americans use 90 million pounds of fertilizer and 78 million pounds of pesticides on our lawns, and of the 30 common pesticides used, 17 are commonly detected in groundwater. Even more alarming is the fact that suburban lawns on average receive 3.2 to 9.8 pounds of pesticide per square acre more than the 2.7 pounds per acre used in agriculture (Lawn pesticide facts). Nitrogen and phosphorus are two major sources of nonpoint source pollution, which is pollution characterized by a lack of a definite point or source due to either runoff, precipitation, or a collection of forces that collect water from many places and deposit it in waterways (What is nonpoint). Nitrates and phosphates accumulate in water bodies, and due to their chemical properties, begin to stimulate abundant algae growth. The newly formed excess of algae blocks light penetration into the water, decreasing the productivity of underwater oxygen-producing plant life (Muir, 2012). This process, known as eutrophication,

leads to dead zones where life is considered unsustainable, and is occurring all over the country. It turns out that the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution on waterways are severe even if somebody decides to treat their lawn only once or twice a year. Because phosphorus is such an effective fertilizer, it only takes one pound of phosphorus to produce anywhere from 350 to 700 pounds of algae (Phosphorus pollution, 2005). If an average suburban lawn owner decides to apply 1 pound of 5-10-5 fertilizer twice a year, they are adding 2 pounds of phosphorus into the soil (Refer to Appendices 1). Obviously, not all of the phosphorus will be transported from the lawn into local water sources, but a state with as much suburban development as New Jersey has plenty of lawns to offer their own contribution to pollution. Pesticides and fertilizers are not the only water pollutants that can be produced from modern lawn maintenance. To a much lesser extent of damage, grass and mowing clippings contain chemicals by nature and also from contact with artificial chemicals and can contribute to pollution when hit with rainwater. Leakage from power equipment is fairly common, whether someone is tending their lawn with old leaky weed whacker or filling their mower tank with gas. In fact, Americans spill about 17,000 gallons of gasoline onto their lawns every year, compared with the infamously tragic Exxon-Valdez spill that released 11,000 gallons of gasoline into Prince William Sound in Alaska (Ratliff, 2002).

Greenhouse Gases and Other Air Pollution Maintaining an attractive lawn by means of power equipment is very dirty business. Americans use 800 million gallons of gas every year to fill their mowers, producing 5% of the countrys total air pollution in the process (Cleaner air: gas). In a society that has slowly become so aware and supportive of living green and protecting the environment, it is astounding that we regularly use push mowers that produce the same amount of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides emissions in one hour of operation as 11 new cars each being driven for one hour (Cleaner air: gas). Even worse are ride-on mowers, which I regularly use on my lawn at home, producing as much emissions over an hour as 34 cars. Mowers as well as small-engine tools such as leaf blowers and weed whackers have high carbon output levels, which are accumulating in the atmosphere to accelerate climate change. In terms of environmental damage, these gases produce negative effects on local and global scale. As previously mentioned, lawn mowers produce high levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Concerning the issues of climate change, the first two are of immense importance: carbon dioxide accounts for 84% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and nitrous oxides 5% (Greenhouse gas emissions). Nitrous oxides in particular can accumulate in the atmosphere to cause acid rain and also assist in eutrophication through atmospheric deposition.

Conclusion
For any person who cares about the environment and knows about the effects of common lawn care, it doesnt really make sense for them to continue maintaining one. Yet, so

many Americans know full well what they are doing to their environments, but refuse to give up their lawns. Perhaps the pressure of society is too great for lawn owners to keep up their perfect front yards, or someone like the woman from Gimme Green might connect their unkempt yard to an unkempt life (2007). It really just shows that a paradigm shift is necessary to change peoples perceptions on what is and is not acceptable for the land surrounding a home. If we are going to dedicate 40 million acres of this country to yard space, then we better take a much harder and longer look at how that space is affecting our environment.

Works Cited
Brown, Valerie J. (February 2007). "Industry Issues: Putting the Heat on Gas". Environmental Health Perspectives (US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) Cleaner air: gas mower pollution facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm Economic contributions of the u.s. fertilizer manufacturing industry. (2009, August). The Fertilizer Institute, Retrieved from http://www.tfi.org/sites/default/files/images/CRAsummary.pdf Fertilizer. Made How, Retrieved from http://www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Fertilizer.html Florida, R. (2013, January 31). The fading differentiation between city and suburb. Urban Land, Retrieved from http://urbanland.uli.org/economy-markets-trends/the-fading-differentiation-betweencity-and-suburb/ United States Department of Energy, (n.d.). Gas mileage of 1994 ford escort. Retrieved from website: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/1994_Ford_Escort.shtml Impacts of the american lawn. (2005, March 31). Retrieved from http://jcflowers1.iweb.bsu.edu/rlo/talawn.htm Lawn mowers - industry overview. (2007). Industry IQ, Retrieved from http://www.heraldtribune.com/assets/pdf/advtips/IQ_LawnMowers.pdf Lawn pesticide facts and figures. Beyond Pesticides, Retrieved from http://www.beyondpesticides.org/lawn/factsheets/facts&figures.php Massapequa park passes stunning and potentially expensive new law on property upkeep. (2012, June 12). CBS New York. Retrieved from http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2012/06/12/massapequa-parkpasses-new-law-on-lawn-maintenance/ Muir, P. (2012). 1. eutrophication. Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Retrieved from http://people.oregonstate.edu/~muirp/eutrophi.htm Phosphorus pollution. (2005, January 27). Retrieved from http://www.serconline.org/phosphorus/fact.html Potash. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://econet.ca/issues/mining/potash.html Ratliff, E. (2002). Turf wars: The battle over the american lawn. Retrieved from http://www.atavistic.org/evan/images/ReadyMade/Lawn Wars.pdf Rich, D. K. (2006). The case against synthetic fertilizers/industrial process opens door to many environmental risks. SFGate, Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/homeandgarden/article/The-caseagainst-synthetic-fertilizers-2506802.php Robbins, P., & Sharp, J. T. (2009). Producing and consuming chemicals: The moral economy of the american lawn. Economic Geography, 79(4), 425-451.

Romanowski, P. (2006). How fertilizer is made. Retrieved from http://www.madehow.com/Volume3/Fertilizer.html United States Environmental Protection Agency, (n.d.).Greenhouse gas emissions. Retrieved from website: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases.html United States Environmental Protection Agency, (n.d.). Greenhouse gas emissions from a typical passenger vehicle. Retrieved from website: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/climate/documents/420f11041.pdf United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. (2005). Landscaping and lawn care. Retrieved from website: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/menuofbmps/index.cfm?action=browse&Rbutton=detail&bmp =97 United States Environmental Protection Agency, (n.d.). What is nonpoint source pollution?. Retrieved from website: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/whatis.cfm

Appendices
Appendix 1: Calculation of Phosphorus Added to Soils
The average suburban lawn has an area of about 10,000 square feet (Impacts of the, 2005). A common fertilizer used in lawns is 5-10-5 fertilizer containing 5% nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 5% potassium (2005). If instructions on fertilizer were to call for 1 pound of fertilizer for every 1000 square feet, the user would apply .10 pounds of phosphorus every 1000 square feet, or 1 pound over the entire lawn. A twice a year application of this fertilizer would equate to 2 pounds of fertilizer per year.

Appendix 2: Calculation of CO2 Emitted During Trip from Newport, NJ to Millville, NJ While Driving a 1994 Ford Escort
According to the EPA (Greenhouse gas emissions from), the average passenger vehicle emits 8,887 grams of CO2 for every mile driven. For a thirteen mile trip, 118,197 grams of CO2 would be emitted, which converts into 260.58 pounds.