Feature Article - February 2012
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Greener Grass Awaits

Environmental & Fiscal Responsibility Team Up in Synthetic Turf

By Tammy York

Although artificial turf has been around for a while, it didn't really take off into the mainstream market until around 2005. As the years progressed, synthetic turf gained in popularity and more fields were installed every year in parks, schools, colleges and professional playing fields. The artificial turf fields that were initially installed had a life span of eight to 10 years.

That means the number of fields that are coming up per year for replacement is increasing. "In the next five years and on into the future, we are going to see a lot of municipalities and institutions that need to replace their synthetic turf fields and infill," said Mark Novak, Stantec consulting SportGroup leader for the United States and Canada, focusing on the design of athletic and recreational facilities. "These fields typically had eight-year warranties. In some cases, they were originally installed a decade or more ago, and they have fulfilled their useful lifespan."

At the same time the number of fields needing to be replaced is increasing, there is also a high level of interest in being environmentally responsible with what happens to the old fields. This emerging trend of figuring out how to best recycle the various components of the field is something every field manager should be concerned with because it affects the costs associated with replacing the artificial turf field. And, as landfill space decreases and costs rise, the feasibility of just sending the field to the landfill quickly pales in comparison to generating some revenue and savings by reusing or selling the compone nts of the field to a recycler or waste to energy plant.

"A typical field is about 600,000 pounds of material. In 2011, 180 fields were removed in the United States, and 90 percent of those went into a landfill," said Mark Mitchell, president and owner of Mitchell Machine Works, which specializes in design-build machinery for the manufacture, installation and removal of synthetic turf. "In 2012, an anticipated 250 to 300 fields will be removed. In 2013, the number jumps again with approximately 500 to 700 fields being removed."

Why the Fields Need To Be Replaced

"Synthetic field turf replacement is needed in the older fields because the carpet fibers are failing," Novak said. "The first areas of the field which show wear and tear are the goal mouths, lacrosse creases, areas between the hash marks on the football field, various areas where you take penalty shots, and in areas where you see a high occurrence of repetitive use."

In the high-use areas of the synthetic turf fields, the fibers that are used to simulate natural grass will show wear and tear, start to fall out of the carpet, or be split and broken, giving the appearance of a scouring pad. The fiber degradation and infill compaction negatively affect the playability of the field in those areas.

"It's not a great solution to just fix the areas with the problems. Because over time the ultraviolet light tends to dull the field and when you replace just one area you will have extreme color differences," Novak said. "You are just putting a band-aid on the real problem."