Supplement Feature - September 2011
Find a printable version here

Tomorrow's Turf

Budgets and the Environment Drive Trends in Natural and Synthetic Sports Fields

By Julie Knudson

Extending the product's lifecycle through better durability may also help to lessen disposal concerns. "You're starting to see that some turf companies are providing warranties that go beyond the current eight-year normal warranty term. There are new technologies coming down the pike that will extend the durability or improve the durability of fields."

Doyle said that increased emphasis on regular maintenance will go a long way toward extending the life of a field, and he anticipates significant announcements by the industry this year with respect to the recycling of synthetic turf.

Other innovations making their way into the wild include field systems with pads underneath coupled with shorter pile height and less infill, so the pad provides uniform resilience across the entire field. Advanced infills are also becoming more widely available. "Crumb rubber is still the proven infill for resilience, durability and low cost, but there are other elastomer infills—TPEs (thermoplastic elastomers), EPDMs (ethylene propylene diene rubber), coated sand and coated rubber," Doyle said, adding that different types of fibers, fiber blends and thatch layers were gaining popularity as they create a more realistic look, reduce fly up and contribute to improved durability and performance.

Recyclability continues to be a major focus for synthetic turf manufacturers. "The industry is looking, as is the Synthetic Turf Council, to establish guidelines or guidance for the reuse, repurposing [and] disposal of synthetic turf once it's reached the end of its useful life that does not involve sending it to the landfill," said STC President Rick Doyle.

Another issue that manufacturers continue to grapple with is the problem of heat buildup in synthetic surfaces. Doyle said that innovations are on the horizon that will better address heat concerns.

"The industry is looking hard at ways to reduce heat buildup in the plastic fibers and in the infill." As manufacturers craft solutions to this and other issues, Doyle believes organizations will consider synthetic fields for a wider variety of situations. "I think synthetic turf is becoming a viable solution for many different applications, and will continue to be a solution that is carefully considered by not only field owners, but parks and rec departments, homeowners and municipalities."