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Environment

The manufacturing, installation, maintenance and disposal of synthetic turf fields present a host of issues for the environment.

Contribution to solid waste. Used synthetic turf is projected to produce between 1 million and 4 million tons of waste (1) over the next decade, but there is a lack of plans or guidance for its disposal.(2) In most cases it cannot be completely recycled, and disposing of it in landfills is expensive and not an industry best practice.

Used turf that is dumped illegally near a body of water can attract pests, and piles can pose a fire risk. Repurposing used turf may also pose concerns. In August 2020, reuse of turf in a construction project
(3) led to the release of 4- 6 cubic yards of crumb rubber into the Puyallup River in Washington State.

River

Micro-plastics pollution. Particles of infill and of synthetic grass carpet can migrate away from playing fields, contributing to microplastic pollution which can contaminate water and soil. The Norwegian government has undertaken an initiative to address microplastic pollution (4) from synthetic turf. 

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the federal law governing the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. 

Under a revised RCRA rule, the recycling of a hazardous waste into a usable consumer product may be considered acceptable and therefore exempt from RCRA requirements, even if the end product it creates is more toxic than other similar products on the market. 

This loophole means that no monitoring follows the new product even when it is recycled into a consumer use such as ground up rubber tires used in artificial turf fields, in children’s playground areas or in garden mulch.

Chemical run-off and water and soil contamination. Contaminants that are harmful to aquatic life, such as zinc, have been found in stormwater runoff from synthetic turf. (5) Heavy metals like cadmium and lead have been found on artificial turf fields. Lead and cadmium are known toxic contaminants and can negatively impact wildlife, plants, and microorganisms. These heavy metals can also accumulate in soil and water.

 

Habitat loss and climate effects. Artificial turf replaces true green space, thereby reducing available habitat for organisms and reducing ecosystem services provided by green spaces, such as flood control and carbon sequestration. Artificial turf also contributes to the urban heat island effect, as research indicates that all artificial turf reaches higher temperatures than natural grass. 

Links & Resources

Please note: Links on this page may take you to websites outside the Partnership for Healthy Playing Fields, and may express views that are not those of all of the participating organizations.

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12 Things You Should Know About Synthetic Turf from Grassroots Environmental Education

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How the “Syn-Turf” Industry Pulled the Wool over the Public’s Eyes on Crumb Rubber from Clean Water Action CT. 

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Choosing Safer Options for Health and the Environment from the Toxics Use Reduction Institute 

Citations:

[1] Candy Woodall, Y. 2019. Paper: Old turf fields raise environmental, health concerns. Available at https://apnews.com/article/e2c4b4fc51854dffa15774f83cc104f9
 

[2] Marjie Lundstrom, E.2019. “The Dangerous Pileup of Artificial Turf”. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2019/12/artificial-turf-fields-are-piling-no-recycling-fix/603874/
 

[3] Mapes, L. 2020. Rubber debris litters miles of Puyallup River after artificial turf was used in dam project without permit. Available at https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/rubber-debris-litters-miles-of-puyallup-river-after-artificial-turf-was-used-in-dam-project-without-permit/
 

[4] Chemical Watch. 2020. “Norway planning rules on emissions from artificial turf microplastics”. Available at https://chemicalwatch.com/64144/norway-planning-rules-on-emissions-from-artificial-turf-microplastics
 

[5] Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. 2010. “Artificial Study: Leachate and Stormwater Characteristics”. Available at http://waylandrec.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/DEP-Artificial-Turf-Study-dep_artificial_turf_report.pdf