On my morning walk to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, I looked down at my footsteps and noticed cigarette butts strewn hither and thither.
Why do people just throw those cancer sticks into the gutter and treat our outdoor spaces as a public ashtray? They must not realize that cigarette filters are designed to accumulate toxins—they can contain up to 60 known human carcinogens and 1,400 potential chemical additives. People must not realize that these chemicals can enter our storm drains, leach into surrounding water and harm aquatic life.
They must not be watching their footsteps.
Which leads me to the thought, why do people even start smoking? Is it because they want to behave like someone they admire, to be part of the crowd? That first inhalation of nicotine isn’t fun, after all – it’s painful, it’s yucky, and nowadays you know it’s not good for you.
So where’s all this heading?
Keep-off-the-grass, keep up appearances, monoculture showcases that still abound in American dream neighborhoods.
Thankfully, the times they are a’changin – a new incentive program is being offered in my community by the (San Francisco) Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA). They’re offering a $1,000 rebate to customers that convert their water-thirsty lawns to water-efficient landscapes through their “Lawn Be Gone! Program.”
But it’s so much more than water.
Just like a young kid taking up smoking to “look cool,” homeowners are “keeping up with the Joneses” (and the powerful turf industry’s marketing hype) by perpetuating the manicured front lawn and traditional Sunday morning mow.
Just like thoughtlessly tossing a cigarette butt in the gutter, homeowners are spraying their lawns with synthetic fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides, exposing our children, our pets, and our water supply to carcinogenic chemicals, and keeping the image “picture-perfect” with gas mowers spewing pollutants into the air we breathe.
I asked my Facebook friend Joe Lamp’l, host of PBS’ Growing a Greener World for his two cents on the transition to “green gardening”:
“Years ago, I didn’t think much about the chemicals and products I put down on my lawn and gardens to achieve a certain result. But over the years I’ve learned so much about the environmental impact of my actions. For years now I’ve gardened completely organically. By not using synthetic chemicals, the results are impressive and I feel great knowing I’m doing no harm to nature or the environment around me.”
Now don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against grass itself. It’s a soft, fragrant, outdoor carbon-sequestering carpet that people and animals can play, picnic, and roll around on. Especially if it’s (1) used by the home’s inhabitants, (2) a drought-tolerant grass variety and, (3) is managed sustainably (fertilize the soil, not the plant, and use a good old-fashioned push mower – healthy for both you the environment).
If you’re not using it, why not replace that lawn with gorgeous drought-tolerant native plants, and/or use your land and water to grow your own organic food? Why not suggest to your own local government that they “keep up with the Joneses” and follow in BAWSCA’s footsteps? We can still have our native lawns – and eat our veggies, too!
Susan Cann is the co-producer of the new documentary Unacceptable Levels, founder of Meetup groups Greening up with the Joneses and GreenGirls.
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