From sports stadiums to school grounds to backyards—we are now seeing more and more people using artificial turf. These are some of the reasons why they prefer synthetic to natural grass:
- It is said to be more convenient because you won’t have to mow or water or protect it against rodents and other pests.
- It is said to be generally better for the health because it is free from allergens.
- It is said to benefit the home because it is always ready for playtime with kids and pets alike.
- Artificial grass is more environmentally sustainable than real grass.
In truth, there is still much debate as to whether the synthetic version is indeed better than the real thing in terms of environmental sustainability.
Before we get into the debate and cite the reasons why fake grass is environmentally more substantial than natural grass though, it may be a good idea for you to get a bit of its background.
Brief History of Artificial Turf
It was in the 1960s when synthetic grass was first developed and used. David Chaney, Dean of the College of Textiles at the North Carolina State University, led a team of researchers in creating a synthetic turf that is said to look and act like natural grass. It was then in 1966 that the Houston Astrodome used the invention and instantly created a huge market for artificial turf.
By the late 1970s, improvements were made in terms of sizing and crush resistance because players complained of various injuries on the artificial field. From the early 1990s to 2001, more improvements were made, using various mixtures of recycled tires and silica sand. The improvements made the turf drain better and its playability resemble natural grass even more. And if only one manufacturer produced the synthetic turf in the past, there are now myriad manufacturers to choose from.
These days, the stadiums of sports like soccer, American football, and field hockey also have fake turf installed. So do some tennis courts all over the world. Even commercial premises and residential areas now use synthetic grass. As it continues to evolve and improvements continue to be applied, more and more people are expected to appreciate the benefits offered by man-made turf.
Synthetic Grass and the Environment
Now we go to the question of environmental sustainability. Is the artificial version really better than the natural? Let’s take a look at some facts about this invention that affect the environment:
- It is said that a full-sized synthetic sports field helps you save up to a million gallons of water each year. In 2011, about six billion gallons of water were saved by sports fields across the United States by using synthetic turf. Considering that the average family consumes about 400 gallons of water each day, the amount of water saved by sports fields in 2011 therefore equates to the annual water usage of 40,000 average families.
- According to the Southern Nevada Water Authority, if you replaced one square foot of natural grass with the synthetic version, you save 55 gallons of water each year. Therefore, if you have a 2,000-square feet lawn and you replace it entirely with synthetic grass, you’ll be saving 110,000 gallons of water each year. This is why some places have actually enacted an ordinance requiring homeowners to replace their front yards with the synthetic version.
- Here is another fact to consider: landscape irrigation accounts for a third of residential water use in the United States. When you choose to use artificial grass for your lawn, you help reduce water usage in landscape irrigation in the United States, which amounts to over 7 billion gallons per year. This is a very important contribution since there have been various reports about scarcity of water in many places around the world. Every little thing we can do to save water can have a huge impact on the environment overall.
- The benefits of artificial turf to the environment go beyond water conservation. This invention also significantly cuts the need to use chemical fertilizers and harmful pesticides. It has, in fact, cut the use of pesticides and fertilizers in the United States by a billion pounds each year. Note that the toxins in pesticides and fertilizers are among the major causes of water pollution, which affects not only the environment, but also your health.
- The use of synthetic lawns and fields also keeps over 100 million used tires from getting dumped in landfills. As mentioned earlier, crumb rubber from recycled tires is used in combination with silica sand to create the artificial fields. As you well know, recycling is always good for the environment. The use of recycled tires becomes even more significant when you consider the fact that rubber is almost impossible to dispose in an environment-friendly manner.
One argument used by those who do not believe in the environmental sustainability of synthetic turf is that it is very difficult and expensive to dispose of when it reaches the end of its lifespan. They do have a valid point, but what they may not know is that:
- There are now several organizations that have found creative ways to reuse the individual components of a synthetic turf, and these organizations are still finding new ways to do so.
- Several golf sand traps are now using synthetic lining made from recycled turf because it has been found that this protects the integrity of the sand traps. It limits sand erosion and therefore reduces the need to keep replacing the sand.
- These organizations have also discovered that every single component of synthetic turf can be reused or recycled.
Perhaps the only valid arguments pro-naturals can throw into the debate is that artificial grass does not release oxygen or sequester carbon. But that is why we have national parks and are encouraged to plant more trees, right?