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Is Synthetic Turf Environmentally Friendly?

Whilst it’s easy to make the assumption that a synthetic product mustn’t be environmentally friendly, it’s worth looking closer at the long-term benefits of synthetic turf

When you consider the resources needed to maintain natural grass, including significant water use, chemical fertilisers and mowing emissions, natural grass is actually quite resource-heavy to maintain. 

Large expanses of grass can contribute to CO2 emissions via mowers and other maintenance equipment, and take a toll on the environment through the heavy watering required to keep natural grass looking good in Australia’s challenging climate

Of course, synthetic turf is a plastic-based product and it does have some downsides. However, there are certainly environmentally positive aspects to installing synthetic turf at your school or commercial property.

Environmental Benefits of Synthetic Turf

1. Reduced Carbon Emissions

When you consider the emissions from lawn mowing and trimming on a large scale, it can have a significant impact on the environment. 

One study found that operating a typical 4-stroke, 4HP lawn mower for an hour produced the equivalent emissions of hydrocarbons (PAHs) as driving a car for 150 km. Multiply this single hour of lawn mowing across entire cities, considering all the ovals and sports fields that need regular mowing, and you can see how the emissions from maintenance really add up. 

On the other hand, synthetic turf never requires mowing – completely removing this as a potential emission source.

2. Significant Reduction in Water Use

Natural grass is thirsty. In the warmer months, in particular, grass requires heavy watering to stay green and lush, with Council sports fields and large school ovals often resorting to irrigation to keep up with the amount of watering required.

Synthetic turf doesn’t need watering (apart from the occasional specific wetting of hockey fields). In addition, when synthetic turf is installed it can often include a drainage layer, which means that it’s possible to include retention tanks and other water-recycling methods, further reducing the overall water use at your property. 

3. No Chemical Fertilisers Required

Pests such as lawn grubs and the constant battle against weeds mean that natural lawns often require regular applications of pesticides and herbicides. 

Whilst small applications can have a negligible effect, when you consider the litres of chemicals required to maintain grass sports fields and ovals, synthetic turf comes out ahead with zero need for fertilisers. 

4. Can Be Reused Creatively

Although some synthetic turf does end up in landfill at the end of its useful life, there are several ways that Councils, commercial asset owners and contractors can ensure as much turf as possible remains out of the waste stream. 

Reusing components of playing fields and ovals when they are being replaced means community organisations can take advantage of the synthetic turf for different uses, without the cost associated with buying brand-new turf. When competition-quality turf comes to the end of its life, it often has years of functionality left for more day-to-day applications, such as around playgrounds and other areas where a high-performance playing surface isn’t necessary.

5. Synthetic Turf Can Be Recycled

There’s no denying that synthetic turf has some less environmentally friendly aspects, however the industry is constantly evolving and new ways to reuse or recycle turf are coming to the forefront. Recycling synthetic turf is a relatively new concept, with organisations such as Sustainability Victoria working towards recovering a significant amount of the materials in synthetic turf.

One recycling plant project aims to recover up to 98% of materials which include plastic, sand and rubber, and eventually reuse these in the installation of new synthetic turf spaces. Surplus materials will be sold back to the market, and the plant is set to help reduce waste to landfill by 7,680 tonnes per annum once the hub is operating at scale.

Initiatives like this are in their infancy but offer proof that the sustainability of synthetic turf is becoming increasingly more positive throughout Australia. 

In Germany, synthetic turf recycling is a few years ahead, with circular economy champions Re-Match proposing a bold project to recover plastic fibre and turn it back into synthetic yarn, and ultimately into new turf. 

While the cleaned and separated sand and rubber granules can easily be used on new synthetic turf fields as infill, turning the recycled plastic fibre into yarn which could be used in the production of new synthetic turf is a more challenging task.

To achieve this, Re-Match has established the Circular Turf Yarn Development Project. By applying new chemical techniques, the project has demonstrated that new yarn can be made from recycled plastic fibre that is just as strong as virgin turf yarn.

A Move Towards More Environmentally Friendly Materials

These initiatives, and others across the country and the world, show a strong move towards organisations and governments seeking to lessen the environmental impact of synthetic turf. 

Here at Preferred Turf, we are always researching and developing new products, specifically those that are made from recycled products – contact our team to find out more about how to select the best synthetic turf for your next project. 

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