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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Comparing Real And Synthetic Grass

Your browser does not support this object. View the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnhMFfYsglE

Video published April 23, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: An earth day report on whether real or synthetic grass is better for you and the environment.

ED JOYCE (KPBS Reporter): San Diegans spend a lot of time and money maintaining lawns. They also use a lot of water keeping them green. But not Alpine homeowner Dianne Barnaba. Barnaba pulled out the natural grass in the front and backyard of her home. She replaced it with 750 square feet of synthetic grass. The artificial turf covers a small patch in the front yard and more in the back yard.

DIANNE BARNABA (Alpine Homeowner): There was lots of gopher holes, tons of dirt, big dirt mounds. And although the dirt was great for plants it wasn't good for the yard. And we had two dogs so we had to always try and figure out how to cover up the brown spots. And then the biggest thing probably besides the gophers, were the rabbits. We had tons of rabbits coming in in the morning and at night grazing eating all the grass down to the nub.

JOYCE: Four years ago, Barnaba re-landscaped the property, adding drought-tolerant plants and the synthetic turf. She says replacing the real grass cut her water bills in half.

BARNABA: And my husband's back was saved quite a bit because he didn't have to mow and weedwhack.

JOYCE: Barnaba bought her synthetic grass from Escondido-based Easy Turf. Easy Turf regional sales manager MarkRradeke says the company's field turf product is a good substitute for real grass.

MARK RADEKE (Easy Turf): You know, our turf is extremely environmentally-friendly. The infill for instance, is, it's crumb rubber, it's recycled tires. For instance, to do a football field it takes 100,000 recycled tires. That's 100,000 tires that aren't sitting in a landfill somewhere. Plus the whole product is 100 percent recyclable. Besides that you're not putting nitrates, fertilizers, things like that into the ground. So it really is the perfect green alternative.

JOCYE: The recycled tires are used for cushioning. Radeke says the synthetic green polyethlene blades are lead and toxic-free. Polyethylene is a type of plastic, the same material used in grocery store bags. He says the fake turf does get a bit warm on days when the temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher. But a spritz on the turf with a hose drops that heat, at least temporarily. Radeke also says the field turf is porous so it allows water to soak through to the ground. He says the average cost is roughly $8 to $14 per square foot depending on type of turf, ground preparation and access issues. Radeke says business for the company has picked up significantly in the past three years as the cost of water has climbed. He also says the turf is now considered a viable landscaping option. But does the synthetic turf really feel like natural grass? We put it to the barefoot test. -- Feels like grass to me. -- While the synthetic grass may feel good on my bare feet, some say it's bad for the environment.

NAN STERMAN (Garden Expert): To me, artificial grass is just artificial. It doesn't belong in a garden. It's outdoor carpeting.

JOYCE: Nan Sterman is a proponent of drought-tolerant landscapes. She's written two books on California gardening.

STERMAN: Grass has some advantages. Grass does take carbon out of the air, grass does cool the air, it does filter runoff and rainwater, etc. We just don't have enough natural rainfall to keep it going without a lot of artificial means. So, if you can't keep grass going without artificial means, why have artificial grass? It doesn't serve any purpose other than being a green carpet.

JOYCE: Sterman recommends using drought-tolerant plants and a combination of soil and other ground covering instead of synthetic or natural grass. Dylan Edwards manages the Ocean Friendly Gardens Program for the surfrider Foundation. Edwards says synthetic turf does help conserve water. But surfrider is concerned about runoff.

DYLAN EDWARDS (Surfrider Foundation): But underneath that synthetic turf you have this really unhealthy compacted soil, and so the rainwater comes down hits the synthetic turn, a chunk of it gets absorbed. But a vast majority of it runs off into the streets and into the gullies, the storm drains, and ultimately into the oceans.

JOYCE: He also says the artificial turf absorbs sunlight.

EDWARDS: It's a petroleum product and that has some CO2 emissions related to it. It also absorbs a ton of the heat from the sunlight here in San Diego. What's it's actually working to do is creating this little heat island around our city. And, of course, that contributes a little bit to the overall global warming picture, but also forces folks to run up their air conditioning a little bit more.

JOYCE: Edwards says drought-tolerant and climate-appropriate plants are a better option because they absorb carbon and release oxygen. He says a UC San Diego study showed that if all landscaping in san diego was replaced with artificial turf, it would raise the average temperature about three degrees Fahrenheit. But for Dianne Barnaba of Alpine and other homeowners, the synthetic turf preserves a slice of the traditional green.

BARNABA: The issue was mainly having the grass that felt real, i mean that was huge for me. And so having that and having a beautiful yard and not having to worry about a water bill, especially nowadays, you know. There was no question, I love it, it's perfect.

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