Feature Article - February 2012
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Greener Grass Awaits

Environmental & Fiscal Responsibility Team Up in Synthetic Turf

By Tammy York

More Shock Absorption, Less Turf and Infill

One of the systems currently on the market is a shock-absorbing layer that goes over the top of the rock base much in the same fashion as interlocking tiles. "By using a shock-absorbing layer underneath the field you can shorten the height of the turf and use less rubber and sand infill," said Dan Sawyer, CEO of a manufacturer of shock-absorbing underlayment. "When you lay turf over stone, you have nothing to absorb the shock and therefore you need taller turf and lots of sand and rubber infill."

If a shock-absorbing layer is used underneath the field, the height of the turf can be decreased as well as the amount of sand and rubber infill needed to produce safe g-max values. For example, when you use a shock-absorbing layer you could save at least a half-inch of turf fiber height, which is significant when you consider that it is saved over 80,000 square feet. This significantly reduces the amount of polyethylene, sand and rubber needed to complete the field.

Shock-absorbing layers can be reused rather than recycled. This eliminates the need to transport the polypropylene material to recycling plant, the energy to recycle the material and the energy to transport it back out to the consumer market. By eliminating the need to recycle the material, you also eliminate the CO2 produced during transportation.

The shock-absorbing layer provides several benefits to the field turf manager and the players utilizing the field. The shock-absorbing layer protects the laser grading of the stone base so that future installations of synthetic turf and infill can just be laid over the top of it since the rock base is protected from the removal equipment by the padding. It also protects the players when they hit the field because it provides an extra layer of shock absorption. In addition, it reduces the height of the carpet, as well as the amount of infill that is needed, which in turn reduces the amount of material that would be needed for the replacement field, and it can be recycled in the future.

Cradle to Cradle

The Cradle to Cradle Certified program is a multi-attribute eco-label that assesses a product's safety to humans and the environment and design for future lifecycles. The Cradle to Cradle framework focuses on using safe materials that can be disassembled and recycled as technical nutrients or composted as biological nutrients. The materials and manufacturing practices of each product are assessed in five categories: Material Health, Material Reutilization, Renewable Energy Use, Water Stewardship, and Social Responsibility.

One manufacturer has developed a sustainable solution to recycling synthetic turf fields, with a plant located in Dalton, Ga., that utilizes reclaimed material for energy production by using the turf fibers as a fuel. This is also known as a waste-to-energy plant where the various waste components are burned to create electrical energy. Another way the turf is recycled is for the turf system to be converted back into the resin/polymer state and then molded or extruded into new products such as carpet backing, mats, rugs and sheet goods. This reduces the demand for virgin materials.

"The industry is being very aggressive in manufacturing products that are more sustainable and can be recycled easier," Novak said. "As the number of fields that need to be replaced increases, the various recycling avenues should increase as well. This will make it easier and more cost-effective to recycle the field. The Synthetic Turf Council has created an end of life task force to educate the public about the advances that have been made and what to look for in the future."

"The field doesn't need to be thrown away, there are just too many millions of pounds going into landfill," Mitchell said. "The specifiers and the turf managers can mandate what is to happen to the fields. That is what will be the driving force of the fields being recycled."

"It seems that everyone thinks being environmental costs more. However, I might spend 5 to 7 percent more today because I know the first time I replace my synthetic turf field, I'm going to get a return on my investment both financially and environmentally. Plus, the next guy who takes over my job doesn't inherit an environmental nightmare," Sawyer said. "You can save money by being environmental. You just might not be able to save it right now. We need to start building things now for more sustainable future. We really can't be throwing old synthetic turf fields in landfills anymore. We don't want our kids to inherit all of this garbage."