American homeowners use over 80 million pounds of pesticides to maintain their lawns, mostly for aesthetic purposes. Lawn service businesses that apply chemicals to kill weeds and feed grass have realized enormous growth just over the past decade. Trugreen reported revenue of 1.4 billion dollars in 2019. This seems to indicate that the American homeowner values a perfect green lawn over environmental health and sustainability.
The actual pesticide ingredients in lawn care formulations, such as 2,4-D, permethrin, and glyphosate, possess some level of toxicity, given that is their purpose – to kill unwanted plants. Pesticide formulations also contain many “inert” ingredients, which may be more toxic than the active ingredients and can comprise 90-95 percent of the product. According to the Center for Food Safety, there are 1,102 registered glyphosate formulations, each with a proprietary mixture of inert ingredients. New studies have shown some of these ingredients to be highly toxic to bees. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate-based formulations are often more toxic than glyphosate alone. Further unintended consequences of increased chemical applications of toxic compounds include contaminated water and damaged ecosystems.
In a middle to upper-middle class neighborhood I recently visited, I did not see a single dandelion in the yards. The lush green grass was a certain sign of broad pesticide use. What came to my mind was that these communities are choosing to use toxic substances mostly for the perfect lawn look, while many communities near industrial sites suffer from chemical exposures they cannot control (environmental injustice). Further, I often hear that our weighty environmental/public health problems cannot be solved by individuals. Here, individuals are choosing to create the problem – the overuse and spread of pesticide formulations.
My grandchildren are delighted by dandelions, knowing they can pick as many as they want without being scolded! They find joy in giving their mother a bouquet of these flowers. We can be better stewards of the environment and one another by simply reducing or eliminating the application of all types of harmful chemicals. Pope Francis expresses the need for people to better respect all of creation. “May the relationship between man and nature not be driven by greed, to manipulate and exploit, but may the divine harmony between beings and creation be conserved in the logic of respect and care.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work