Synthetic turf fields have become a popular choice for many facility owners because of their durability, lower upkeep, and environmental benefits. While synthetic turf fields do not require mowing, pesticides, or fertilizers while in use, these fields should only be seen as environmentally responsible if what happens to the fields after their useful lives are taken into consideration. Today, most turf fields end up in landfills at the end of their functional life, but that does not need to be the case. There are ways to recycle and reuse elements of synthetic turf fields, but there needs to be more demand for these strategies and improvements in product design for them to become commonplace. Elevating the discussion of innovation and increasing consumer demand for innovation related to sustainability is why I wrote about this topic in a recent article in Athletic Business. I outline my key points below, but you can learn more about recycling synthetic turf and how implementing more environmentally friendly products and processes into your planning and design can result in a better field long term by reading my full article here.
Regenerative Design: Keeping Turf in the Game
There are two primary initiatives that owners can bring attention to in order to keep their synthetic turf out of landfills: process improvements to recycle
the elements used to construct the synthetic turf systems in currently installed fields and incorporating materials that are more easily recyclable during the design phase for new installations. When done correctly, these two methods allow more and potentially all elements of the synthetic turf field system to be recycled into materials of an equal quality. This type of approach to planning is called regenerative design and while it is used in other construction processes, it is not widely adopted in athletic field designs. While these strategies may seem quite simple, they require forward-thinking planning as well as great effort and investment from the industry. Increased demand and appreciation from consumers will help industry make the investments.
In order to maximize the potential for reusing elements of the turf field, there needs to be a more systematic process for field removal so that the main elements of the field: the infill, turf and shock pad, remain separate and intact. One immediate benefit of a systematic removal process is the preservation of the shock pad as a quality shock pad can typically be reused for multiple field installations, rather than being replaced at the end of each field’s lifespan. But removing the turf field in a manner that makes recycling the parts feasible and the actual recycling is often more costly, so this process needs to be evaluated in the initial budget.
Rethinking the materials traditionally used in synthetic turf fields, like organic infill, that can be replaced directly back into the environment, can also lessen the environmental burden of the turf after its functional life. These changes can not only affect the environmental impact of the field,
but can also help with addressing other primary concerns associated with synthetic turf. An organic infill, for example, helps address the issue of heat since it has evaporative cooling properties. Another example is that a synthetic turf carpet made with chemically compatible materials can be recycled more easily.
As fields owners, and ultimately consumers, it’s time we create a real demand for innovation in these primary materials for the safety of our players, the performance of our fields, and the health of our environment.