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The Grass is Always Greener, Even if it's Made of Plastic

Commentary by LC/DBM editor Bruce Fordyce

In this sports parks issue we naturally came face-to-face with a war of sorts; a battle raging between natural turf and artificial turf. Each side has its arguments and reasons why contractors and sports park owners and municipalities should use its products. Each side has its take on which is most cost effective or has the highest return on investment. But is the ''dollar'' the ultimate measurement of a product's intrinsic value? Should it be?

Nature mixes carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, as well as a few micronutrients, to produce grass. Scientists took carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen and made nylon and polyethylene. So, both are essentially natural, right?

There is an estimated 50 million acres of managed turf in the U.S. This places turf grass third in total acreage nationwide. Besides providing jobs for thousands of landscape workers, turf is the number one or two agricultural commodity in states like Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey and North Carolina. Inset: Bruce Fordyce, editor

Natural Turf

Most turf fields are over-watered, fertilized and treated with pesticides. Is this natural or sustainable? Fertilizers and pesticides, which are petroleum derivatives (for the most part) run-off to polluted rivers and poison lakes. (More and more laws restricting these products testify to their environmental impact). So, is the natural way the best, when we take these factors into consideration?

Artificial Grass

Artificial grass is essentially a plastic carpet; it does not have the natural mechanisms for cleaning and renewing itself the way natural grass does. It does not turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, it does not clean the air or clean the rainwater. It kills the earth over which it is laid, similar to asphalt or concrete. Also, consider the chemical and pollution waste inherent in the manufacturing process. Consider the byproducts.

So Which is Better?

While natural grass decomposes, artificial turf does not. Natural grass decomposes and returns to the natural cycles. When artificial grass ends its lifespan it gets a trip to the landfill. It will lie there . . . forever. So is natural grass better? One way natural grass returns to the earth is via a lawnmower, however, lawnmowers can be gross polluters. A Swedish study conducted in 2001 concluded, ''Air pollution from cutting grass for an hour with a gasoline powered lawn mower is about the same as that from a 100-mile automobile ride.'' Meanwhile, the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend with gas-powered mowers may be contributing as much as five percent of the nation's air pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Is it possible that artificial grass has less negative impact on the environment?

Are there larger issues than installation cost verses maintenance costs? What about the tens of thousands of workers who make their living maintaining natural grass; do we consider their contribution to their communities, the tax base, the economy as a whole, etc.? And ask yourself this: Would you rather live in a world covered in plastic grass or real turf grass?

For more on the artificial turf-verses-natural turf debate, check out the feature Turf War on page 38. On page 32, we take a look at a Daytona Beach project, where the city converted their municipal stadium from natural turf to FieldTurf, and then rebuilt two smaller fields using turf recycled from the larger field. The article provides a detailed look at what's involved in such a major conversion.


Bruce Fordyce, LC/DBM editor

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May 19, 2019, 8:22 am PDT

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