THEGREENGROK    Statistically Speaking

Statistically Speaking: Lawns by the Numbers

by Bill Chameides | July 25th, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 4 comments


Do we love our lawns too much? The Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of gas while U.S. citizens spill some 17 million gallons refilling gas mowers annually. Time to reach for the hand-mower?

Huffington Post Comments (8)

It’s summertime, and the living is easy — unless you live in a neighborhood like mine, where the endless drone of lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and other assorted garden care equipment greet us every day. Not to mention our needy lawns. We Americans love our lawns, no question. But maybe all that love is clouding our judgment. Let’s look at how the American love affair with yards and lawns impacts more than just our wallets.

Amount of lawn in the United States: 40.5 million acres
Total amount of money spent on lawn care: $30 billion

Percent of residential water used outside: 30 to 60%
Amount of water used daily for residential irrigation: more than 7 billion gallons

Amount of fertilizers used on lawns annually: 3 million tons
Percent reduction of nitrogen fertilizer needed if clippings left on lawn: about 50%

Amount of synthetic pesticides used on lawns annually: over 30 thousand tons
Amount spent on pesticides in 2001 for home and garden use: almost $2.2 billion
Ratio of pesticide use per acre by the average homeowner versus the average farmer: 10 to 1

Of the 32 Pesticides Routinely Used by a Major Lawn Service Company

Percent that include known or suspected endocrine disrupters: 13%
Percent that include known or suspected reproductive toxins: 22%
Percent that include ingredients that are banned or restricted in other countries: 41%
Percent that include possible carcinogens: 53%
Percent that pose a threat to the environment, including water supplies, aquatic organisms, and non-targeted insects: 100%
Number of households served by lawn care companies in 2003: 26 million

Amount of gasoline burned annually caring for lawns: 800 million gallons
Amount of gasoline spilled by the Exxon Valdez: 10.8 million gallons
Amount of gas spilled annually refilling gas mowers: 17 million gallons


“Outdoor Water Use in the United State” –

“Mapping and Modeling the Biogeochemical Cycling of Turf Grasses in the United States” –

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the Transportation Sector, 1990-3003 –

Environmental Impacts of Intensive Lawn Maintenance” –

2000-2001 Pesticide Market Estimates: Sales –

A Source Book on Natural Landscaping for Public Officials –

Natural Landscaping at EPA’s Laboratory –

LESCO Unveils Growth Plans –

Lawn Care –

Bormann, H. F., D. Balmori, and G. T. Geballe. Redesigning the American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony, Second Edition. Yale University Press, New Haven. 2001.

filed under: faculty, health, Statistically Speaking, toxins, water


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  1. Fred Cohagan
    Aug 11, 2008

    Dr. Chameides – thank you for this and all your other Green Grok insights. What I would love to see in this, and other, articles suggesting (or pleading) for change in our behaviors is more prominent mention of our alternatives (and the data, economics and providers of those alternatives). With respect to my lawn, on balance would it make sense to consider taking out my lawn and replacing it with something else? If so, with what? And, what is the personal environmental and economic payback on such a change in behavior? Of course, I do not ask or expect that your postings will provide all these answers on a region by region basis, but if you know of any general resources that could help one harvest some answers, I sure would love to click right on them from your postings. I am eager to move beyond the analysis paralysis and give thoughtful consideration to the available alternatives in the context of my personal situation. Many Thanks – Fred (MEM ’96) ” title=”Changing Behaviors

    • Wendy Graber
      Aug 12, 2008

      Dr. Chameides responds – Hi Fred, I couldn’t agree more that moving beyond analysis of a problem toward sustainability is contingent on having resources that explore how to move forward. With that said, there are many alternatives to lawns. Some preserve the open space and feel of a lawn while other options change the space more fundamentally. I’m not sure which option is right for you. My personal take on this issue is that a small patch of lawn is no better or worse than many of the options out there—what moves lawns into a sustainable or unsustainable category is how we treat that space. If you want a lawn, think small, pick native grasses or plants, let a mix of plant species take over, stop using chemical herbicides and fertilizers, leave clippings on the lawn, don’t use a gas mower, etc… Those ready for a larger shift, can consider using edible and permaculture ( techniques to develop a self-sustaining yard. There are many sites on the web that discuss alternatives that take advantage of native plants that are more suited to the differing climatic regions we have here in the US. It’s puzzling to me that of the 10 plus varieties of grass recommended for turf by the Lawn Institute, only 2 are native. Also if you live in Texas, should you really be growing the same lawn you had in New York? This link is a good start ( — scroll to the bottom) and has an extensive list of websites that discuss alternatives—one of which should be right for you. Be warned that none of them have a rigorous comparison of the economic benefits you will reap by making different changes to your lawn care regime—but don’t let that stop you. While the relative benefits of different options may not be explicitly quantified (a research topic anyone?), the negative impacts of conventional lawn care are. ” title=”…Is Fundamental

  2. Stephany Wilson
    Jul 28, 2008

    Hi Dr. Bill, There isn’t any law governing the emissions of any equipment, such as leaf blowers, gas mower/tractor, etc. either, that is important to note. I am sure the stats are out there for this, and I believe that they are significant. I think we should all boycott our lawns and invest the monies into education. Stephany” title=”emissions

    • Wendy Graber
      Jul 29, 2008

      Green Grok researcher Wendy Graber responds (for Bill C. while he’s on vacation): Hi Stephany, To be clear, California does regulate emissions from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, and EPA is developing rules that would expand those regulations to the whole country. According to EPA, lawn-care equipment generates about 7 to 10% of our air pollution, mostly in the form of smog-forming pollutants. This may not sound like much, but when you think about how little this equipment is actually used compared to cars and the like, it is significant. I applaud your decision to forgo conventional lawn care, but for those readers not ready to follow your lead there are less polluting options available that would limit air pollution, cut back on fossil-fuel use, and save water. A couple of sites with some lawn care basics include: (somewhat humorous) /lawn-garden/outdoor-maintenance/lawn-mowers-and-tractors /reports/cutting-lawn-mower-emissions/0507emi.htm ” title=”Following California’s Lead

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