Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Recycle Your Lawn
distributed 7/9/04 - ©2004

In the realm of health care, naming is very important. Once a disease or a syndrome is identified and named, it is possible for the medical community to diagnose it and treat it, to research it and publish articles on it.

For example, in 1993, a mysterious string of fatalities in the American Southwest was identified as an outbreak of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Naming the syndrome has allowed practitioners to recognize other cases of the fairly common rodent-spread disease, and to develop strategies for both prevention and treatment.

I recently came across a name for something that I'd never had a word for. Now that it has been named, it is "real" and can be discussed and researched. Now, I can be an advocate for what many of us had been doing already. The new word is: "GrassCycling"

One can practice GrassCycling by leaving grass clippings on the lawn. Do not put the bagging attachment on your lawn mower. Do not rake up the grass clippings. Do not go to the trouble of composting the clippings. For God's sake, don't put the clippings in plastic bags to be hauled away with the garbage.

I thought I was being lazy when I left the clippings lying around. But I was GrassCycling without even knowing it.

The only trick -- if you live in an area where grass actually grows at a decent rate -- is to mow the lawn often enough so that you're not cutting hay. A mulching blade on the mower may help chop the grass into smaller pieces, but it is not necessary.

The folk at Denver Recycles, who taught me about GrassCycling, point out these benefits:

  • Saves water - grass is 75% water. Leave it on the lawn.
  • Enriches the soil - the clippings decay rapidly, yet slowly release valuable nutrients back into the earth.
  • Saves time - they estimate that you'll spend 38% less time on lawn care. (See, if you name it, somebody can research it!)
  • Saves money - you'll spend less on water and fertilizer. (If, that is, you recognize that your lawn is self-composting and cut back on the amount of fertilizer that is applied.)
  • Saves landfill space - grass clippings and other yard waste make up 20 to 50% of household waste from March through September.

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Environmental, horticultural, and waste management agencies are all taking part in a major education effort about GrassCycling. They are spreading the word -- literally!

When I "Googled" (another new word) the term "grasscycling" I came up with 8,540 pages, all devoted to the message that grass clippings are not garbage. An extensive campaign is being run to convince people that the stuff they work so hard to grow on their yards is not a waste product.

And there, it seems to me, is the most important benefit of GrassCycling. If we can get people to do it, we might start to have a different experience of our relationship with God's creation -- one that happens entirely at home.

We -- in that great, anonymous, collective sense -- have come to think of things in a very linear way. We start with "natural resources," use some sort of process to convert them into a "product," which then becomes "waste" when we're done with it.

Start with dirt around your house. Add seed or sod, water, fertilizer, perhaps herbicides and pesticides. With enough hard work, you can produce a lush, green lawn as an attractive setting for your home, and as an eloquent expression of your dedication to community standards. You started with resources, and produced a product. The stuff that comes off the lawn, then, must be waste -- stuff to be gathered up, bagged up, and trucked away to the landfill, where it can be entombed forever.

Millions of families and businesses live from that perspective. They devote vast amounts of time and energy to removing that "waste" from the lawn, and dutifully sending it to the dump. The idea is deep-seated enough that the message of "cut it & leave it" requires an extensive and expensive public education campaign.

GrassCycling rejects the resource-product-waste model, and reminds us of the beautiful truth of natural cycles. Those grass clippings, like any vegetation, are one expression of an unending cycle of growth, death, decay and new growth. It is good and natural to let them continue the cycle on your lawn, or at the park.

The routine experience of letting grass recycle itself may open our minds and hearts to other settings where we've broken the natural cycles. If GrassCycling can help us come to that awareness, it will be a great gift.

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This wisdom about natural cycles is nothing new. Go back 3,000 years to the words of Genesis 3:19. "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The grass, the trees, and we ourselves are dust, and to dust we shall return. That's how it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be -- if we'll just let nature take its course.

Thanks be to God for the life-giving miracle in the cycles of life, death and renewal.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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