Eco-Justice Ministries  

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

Recycle Your Lawn
distributed 5/28/10 - ©2010

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 that there is a label for it, I can be an advocate for what many of us had been doing already. The new word is: "GrassCycling".

For over five weeks, the out of control well in the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico has been spewing enormous quantities of oil and gas. The news this morning (5/28/10) is that the "top kill" procedure has stopped the flow of hydrocarbons from the wellbore. That report is very good news, but it will be at least two more days before we know if the well can be stabilized and sealed.

Keep the Gulf of Mexico in your prayers this weekend, both personal and congregational. Give appropriate and enthusiastic thanks if the devastating outpouring of oil is stopped. I urge you, though, to be careful in the words used to express your joy and relief. Do not give thanks that the problem is solved or that the crisis has ended. This crisis will not stop when the well is capped. Oil continues to spread on the surface of the Gulf, and deep in its waters. I hope that we may soon rejoice in a transition point, but the crisis continues.

For weeks, months and years to come, we must deal with the effects and the repercussions of this disaster. Protection and restoration will be needed in many habitats and communities. Changes are needed in legislation and regulations. The oil spill is only one of many indicators that show the need for a dramatically different energy policy, one that moves quickly to end our addition to fossil fuels.

However the news from the Gulf develops in the coming days, may our prayers express grief at the unknown and unimaginable levels of harm from the spreading oil. May we confess our complicity in the society that willingly has accepted enormous risks in our quest for energy.

You 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. Thick wads of mown grass on top of the lawn don't cycle well. A mulching blade on the mower may help chop the grass into smaller pieces, but it usually is not necessary.

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

  • Saves water - grass is more than 80% water. Leave it on the lawn.
  • Enriches the soil - the clippings decay rapidly, yet slowly release valuable nutrients back into the earth.
  • Saves time - you'll spend much less time and effort on lawn care.
  • Saves money - you'll spend less on water and fertilizer. (If, that is, you recognize that your lawn is self-composting and also cut back on the amount of fertilizer that is applied.)
  • Saves landfill space - in Denver, grass clippings and other yard waste make up 37% 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!

In 2004, when I first "Googled" (another new word at that time) the term "grasscycling" I came up with 8,540 pages. In 2010, Google reports 31,700 pages dealing with 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 one of the most important benefits 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. (Annie Leonard does a great job of describing this mindset in her presentation of The Story of Stuff.) 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 -- something worthless and distasteful 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

This version of Recycle Your Lawn updates a previous Eco-Justice Notes from July 9, 2004.

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