Editor's Note : It is very fashionable to talk these days about a society’s carbon footprint and what each person or institution can do to reduce it. The artificial turf and other synthetic surfaces increase the carbon footprint and therefore contribute in their own way to greater global warming. Often the artificial turf replaces a natural grass surface, so one contribution by turf to global warming is the removal of the natural grass surface that reduces carbon dioxide by converting it into oxygen. The production process for artificial turf is for the most part fueled by fossil fuels, as is its installation, after-sale maintenance and eventual disposal protocols. The increased use of artificial fields by sports leagues promote greater concentration of vehicles at a site and thereby contributes to elevated presence of harmful gases in the area of the venue. The manufacturing, installation, service and disposal of a 2-acre artificial turf field facility is responsible for the generation of a total of 55.6 tons of carbon dioxide, in addition to other greenhouse gases and pollutants. The following items debunk the pernicious myth and misleading claims by the turf industry that artificial turf playing fields are a “green” alternative to grass!
[No. 05] Sarah-Jeanne Royer on the adverse impact of artificial turf on the climate. Sarah-Jeanne Royer is Sarah-Jeanne Royer is a postdoctoral research fellow with the marine biology research division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. She has been a postdoctoral fellow at InternationalPacificResearchCenter, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, at University of Hawaii. She received her PhD in Marine Sciences, cum laude, from the Institut de Ciències del Mar (CSIC), Barcelona, Spain, in 2015. She received a joint MSc in 2009 in International Ecology from University of Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Canada and Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Recife, Brazil. She also holds an MSc in Biological Oceanography (2008) from her undergraduate alma mater LavalUniversity, Québec, Canada. Among her more than a dozen refereed publication is with Jung, M.R., et al., Validation of ATR FT-IR to identify polymers of plastic marine debris, including those ingested by marine organisms, in Marine Pollution Bulletin 127, 704-716 (2018) - , doi:10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.12.061. Her postdoctoral research interests has included oceanography and the influx of marine debris, plastic chemistry and photo-degradation, and biogeochemistry and ocean carbon and sulfur cycles. The following piece by Sarah-Jeanne Royer titled “Synthetic turf will contribute to greenhouse gas problems,” was published in Martha’s Vineyard Times (MV Times), 20 February 2018, at https://www.mvtimes.com/2019/02/20/synthetic-turf-will-contribute-greenhouse-gas-problems/ . We thank EHHI.org for bringing the piece to our attention.
I write as an oceanographer with expertise in plastic pollution to advise against the installation of synthetic turf on Martha’s Vineyard. My research has shown that the environmental health impacts posed by plastic carpets and polypropylene shock pads are likely significant, and should be at the forefront of any decision regarding these materials.
I am a postdoctoral researcher at the InternationalPacificResearchCenter at the University of Hawaii, focusing on the pathways and fate of marine debris and plastic pollution in the ocean. Prior to this position, I studied the emissions of greenhouse gases from plastics in the environment at the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education. I also recently started a project on microfibers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, examining the degradability of plastic and microfibers in the environment. This past August, I was the lead author on a groundbreaking study, “Production of Methane and Ethylene from Plastic in the Environment,” in which we quantified greenhouse gas emission from plastics under natural conditions and considered the potential environmental consequences of this process.
We already knew that greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing of products such as synthetic turf and shock pads, and now we have learned that greenhouse gases continue to be released while they are in use and as they degrade. Specifically, we found that the breakdown of plastic represents a significant source of greenhouse gas pollution that is expected to increase — especially as more plastic is produced and accumulated in the environment. Perhaps this is not surprising, since plastic is made from petroleum, but our team at the University of Hawaii was the first to publish data about greenhouse gases and plastic debris. The research has far-reaching implications for climate change, waste management, policymaking, and our decisions as consumers.
For my research, I looked at the most common types of plastic manufactured, consumed, and littered globally. Of particular concern is the plastic that releases gases at the highest rate: low-density polyethylene (LDPE). We showed that methane and ethylene offgassing is triggered by solar radiation, but continues in the dark, and likely over the lifetime of the plastic, accelerating exponentially as the surface area of the plastic increases due to weather and fragmentation. For example, LDPE powders offgas methane 488 times more than when the same weight of LDPE is in pellet form.
While carbon dioxide is perhaps the most well-known contributor to climate change, methane is a far more potent gas — shown to be at least 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Degrading plastic pollution is a source of climate change gas emissions not previously identified in the global greenhouse gas budget. If we consider globally the total surface of plastic exposed to solar radiation (in landfills, along coastlines, on playing fields, at playgrounds, in greenhouses, etc.), the problem of methane potency becomes magnified by the amount of plastic that exists worldwide. Ethylene, another greenhouse gas emitted from plastic, is produced in even greater amounts, and might contribute significantly to its budget.
Given that most plastic carpets are made out of polyethylene — the plastic found to release these gases at the highest rate — and given the high surface area occupied by this material, including each individual blade of plastic “grass,” synthetic turf likely contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. I strongly urge you to consider how you can reduce these gases through policies restricting the installation of synthetic turf, as well as other synthetic surfaces, to guide consumers to make better choices and reduce plastic production everywhere we can.
Greenhouse gases directly influence climate change, increasing sea level rise, extreme weather events, heat waves, flooding, etc. As an island, Martha’s Vineyard is particularly vulnerable to these impacts. As a forward-thinking community known for its environmental stewardship and conservation efforts, Martha’s Vineyard is uniquely poised to be part of the solution regarding climate change. I applaud the Island’s efforts to ban plastic grocery bags, plastic straws, helium balloons, and now plastic bottles (all made with LPDE), and urge you to demonstrate that same leadership regarding synthetic turf.
The Lombardy poplar trees at
[No. 04] Duncan, British Columbia (Canada): One More Act Of Cruelty Against Nature—Making Way For Synthetic Turf Fields!SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. 1 March 2015. According to a news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (14 April 2010), a report from the University of California at Berkeley concluded that significant greenhouse gases are released in … creation [of artificial turf fields].” Genevieve Bookwalter, “New study provides fuel for both sides of artificial turf fight,” in Santa Cruz Sentinel, 14 April 2010, available at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_14879819 . The pdf version of this article is available via http://www.synturf.org/carbonfootprint.html(Item No. 03).
The report concluded that “[a]rtificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf ever would.” The report also stated that “[n]atural grass requires fertilizer, which could contaminate water supplies, and regular mowing, the emissions of which contribute to greenhouse gases. It also requires watering, which could tax a limited supply.” The report however made no mention of the existence of natural grass technologies that address each of the grass-is-bad arguments: organic and natural occurring fertilizers as opposed to chemicals; integrated pest management systems, grass that requires less water and shorter growing season, with deeper root systems and shorter blades.
As for the artificial turf itself: A well-groomed and maintained artificial turf field requires watering (to keep silica dust down, smooth the playing surface, cool down); it requires also antibacterial treatments, pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides. While the installation, mowing (grass)/grooming (artificial turf) and lighting and watering (irrigation) all require some greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of carbon footprint the report did say this: “Artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its the production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf ever would.”
In 2006, Upper CanadaCollege, a private elementary and secondary school in Toronto, Canada, decided to replace its natural grass playing field with a new state-of-the-art, artificial turf surface. A study conducted by the Athena Institute, Merrickville, Ontario, compared the estimated greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during the life cycle of the synthetic turf system with a natural grass surface. The study looked also at the number of trees that have to be planted in order to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral synthetic turf installation. For a 9,000 square-meter facility, the research showed a total CO2 emission of 55.6 tons. The Athena study estimated that 1861 trees needed to be planted in order to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral synthetic turf installation. See Jamie Meil and Lindita Bush, Estimating the Required Global Warming Offsets to Achieve a Carbon Neutral Synthetic Field Turf System Installation, available at http://www.athenasmi.ca/projects/recentProjects.htmlor accessible via http://www.synturf.org/carbonfootprint.html(Item No. 01).
Unlike the environmentally unsustainable artificial turf, a natural grass field acts to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2). A 2008 research found that “[a]fter reviewing the direct carbon sequestration of grasses and their root systems, … managed lawns sequester, or store, significant amounts of carbon, capturing four times more carbon from the air than is produced by the engine of today’s typical lawnmower.” The study also found that “wellmanaged turfgrasses that are cut regularly and at the appropriate height, fed with nutrients left by grass clippings, watered in a responsible way, and not disturbed at the root zone actively pull pollutants from the air, creating a greater carbon benefit.” See Ranajit Sahu, Technical Assessment of the Ccarbon Sequestration Potential of Managed Turfgrass in the United States (2008). Dr. Sahu holds a masters and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology at LoyolaMarymountUniversity (Los Angeles, California) he teaches courses in air pollution and environmental health risk assessment. The report can be accessed via http://www.synturf.org/carbonfootprint.html(Item No. 02).
Much of the foregoing was all known—or should have been known—to policymakers and politicians in Concord, Massachusetts, when in 2007 they decided to clear acres upon acres of the historic Walden Woods in order to make room for synthetic turf fields. See National Public Radio (Shannon Mullen), “Soccer Fields Latest Threat to Thoreau’s Woods,” on 16 April 2007, at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=9598763 . Not exactly a tribute to the legacy of the naturalist David Henry Thoreau of the On the Walden Pond fame.
If the San Francisco politicians and their misguided monied backers to have the ultimate say, by next year, acres upon acres of the natural grass playing fields at Beach Chalet on the national historic Golden GatePark will be turned into synthetic fields topped with carcinogen-packed crumb rubber infill. See the posts at http://www.synturf.org/sanfranciscobrief.html . Not exactly a tribute to the legacy of the birthplace of the environmental movement.
Now comes news of another impending unspeakable cruelty against nature—this fromNorth Cowichan, in Duncan, British Columbia. According to a news report in Cowichan Valley Citizen (13 February 2015), “[t]he Lombardy poplar trees that have so long been a part of the local scene beside the David Williams field at the Sherman Road soccer park are coming down. North Cowichan council approved the move Feb. 3 ….The trees were assessed by an expert, who said they need to come down. Council had, at its July 16  meeting, approved the construction of a synthetic turf field at [the park].” The following is a constructed give-and-take among/between the players in this tragic story:
- Ernie Masueti (NC North parks and recreation director): -The trees were planted in 1969. Some of the poplars have already been removed due to failing health. The tree roots extend into the field, road and drainage systems, which negatively affect the infrastructure. The installation of the synthetic turf will require excavation, which will result in root damage to the trees. Another problem is that, due to their height, the trees do not allow adequate sunlight to defrost the field quickly and therefore have made it unplayable during the winter season.
- Joyce Behnsen (Councillor): Masueti and [David] Polster (Cowichan Valley Naturalists) are working together to address the problem roots of any new trees may pose to the installation of the artificial turf.
- Rob Douglas (Councillor): Mr. Mansueti, I’m assuming these trees have quite deep root structures and if we tear them out, I’m just wondering if there are going to be any drainage issues as a result?
- Masueti: There shouldn’t be. We cut the roots right then and there and then take them down to the stumps and then grind the stumps. They’e actually caused more problems because they take so much water up through the heat of the summer. They affect the field that way.
- Kate Marsh (Councillor): Although I might often be called a treehugger, I have complete confidence in Polster’s assessment and Mansueti’s plan.
- Maeve Maguire (Councillor): Is there any value in the wood?
- Masueti: There’s probably value in it for someone. Poplars don’t burn, even for firewood. But, if there’s a value to them and someone would like them, that would be great.
SynTurf.org Note: The foregoing reminds one of a passage in Act I of Robert Bolt’s brilliant 1960 play A Man for All Seasons. A character named Roper announces his readiness to “cut down every law” in order to achieve his purpose—similar to the call by Masueti and Company to cut down every poplar. Sir Thomas More says to Roper, “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God…And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man's laws, not God's-and if you cut them down-and you're just the man to do it-d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"
[No. 03] Berkeley Report: Artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf ever would.” SynTurf.org, Newton. Mass. April 25, 2010. According to a news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel (April 14, 2010), a recently released report from University of California at Berkeley “concludes that player injuries drop on artificial turf but significant greenhouse gases are released in its creation.” See Genevieve Bookwalter, “New study provides fuel for both sides of artificial turf fight,” in Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 14, 2010, available at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_14879819or click here for pdf.
The Sentinel quoted David Dornfeld, a Berkeley professor and director of the school's Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability, as saying the report was compiled “to make sure that the resources that were referred to were reasonable.”
The report concluded that “Artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its the production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf ever would.”
As far as SynTurf.org is concerned, this alone is the most significant conclusion of the report, considering that the report is entitled Review of the Impacts of Crumb Rubber in Artificial Turf Applications (February 2010) and “was commissioned by The Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence [MANEX], an industry consulting firm. That company has, in the past, worked with California Integrated Waste Management Board to find ways to best recycle old tires. Those tire pieces often turn into the newest artificial playing fields.” According to Manex’s website http://www.manexconsulting.com/?PageID=268 , individuals interested in obtaining a copy of the full report may email email@example.com .
With the exception of the report’s admission that “Artificial turf can become hot and uncomfortable to play on in warmer months,” which is a no-brainer (seehttp://www.synturf.org/heateffect.html ), the report’s other conclusions at best perpetuate the myths that the turf industry and proponents of the product have been foisting on the public and way-too-eager politicians and decision-makers.
Without the benefit of a conscientious and peer-reviewed longitudinal health study there is no telling what the long-term effect of exposure to chemicals of concern would be on children and youth end-users of turf fields. What we do know is that some of these chemicals and substances have a proven record of being unhealthy at best, carcinogenic and fatally toxic in some other cases to living organisms.
Perhaps the most telling of the general ignorance of the Berkeley report is this statement: “Natural grass requires fertilizer, which could contaminate water supplies, and regular mowing, the emissions of which contribute to greenhouse gases. It also requires watering, which could tax a limited supply.” There are natural grass technologies out there that address each of the grass-is-bad arguments: organic and natural occurring fertilizers as opposed to chemicals; integrated pest management systems, grass that require less water and less growing seasons, with deeper root systems and shorter blades. As for the artificial turf itself: A well-groomed and maintained artificial turf field requires watering (keep silica dust down, smooth the playing surface, cool down); it requires antibacterial treatments, pesticides and fungicides and herbicides, too.
While the installation, mowing (grass)/grooming (artificial turf) and lighting and watering (irrigation) all require some greenhouse gas emissions, in terms of carbon footprint the report did say this: “Artificial turf releases more greenhouse gases in its the production, transportation and processing than the maintenance of natural turf ever would.” Emphasis added.
[No. 02] Natural grass to the rescue! A recent study concludes: Even with all of the carbon footprint talk associated with the installation and maintenance of natural grass fields, the managed turf grass is still a viable foot soldier in combating the environmental challenges of global climate change. “After reviewing the direct carbon sequestration of grasses and their root systems, we found that managed lawns sequester, or store, significant amounts of carbon, capturing four timesmore carbon from the air than is produced by the engine of today’s typical lawnmower. The study also finds that well-managed turfgrasses that are cut regularly and at the appropriate height, fed with nutrients left by grass clippings, watered in a responsible way, and not disturbed at the root zone actively pull pollutants from the air, creating a greater carbon benefit.’ On this and other interesting findings, see Ranajit Sahu, Technical Assessment of the Ccarbon Sequestration Potential of Managed Turfgrass in the United States (2008). The research report is available here. Dr. Sahu holds a masters and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from California Institute of Technology. At Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, California) he teaches courses in air pollution and environmental health risk assessment.
No. 01] Estimating the Required Global Warming Offsets to Achieve a Carbon Neutral Synthetic Field Turf System Installation, by Jamie Meil and Lindita Bush.Link to PDF filehttp://www.athenasmi.ca/projects/recentProjects.html. In 2006, Upper Canada College, a private elementary and secondary school in Toronto, Canada decided to replace its natural grass playing field with a new state-of-the-art, artificial turf surface. A study conducted by the Athena Institute, Merrickville, Ontario, estimated the greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted during the life cycle of the synthetic turf system as opposed to a natural grass surface. The study also determined the number of trees to be planted to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral synthetic turf installation. For a 9,000 square-meter facility a 10-year period, the research showed a total CO2 emission of 55.6 tons. An Amercian football field (53.3 yards wide times 100 yards long minimum, without end zones and sidelines) is larger than an acre; and acre is equal to 4,047 square meters or 4,840 square yards. The GHG emissions offset was estimated at -72.6 tons. According to the U.S. Department of Energy estimate (1998), a medium growth coniferous tree, planted in an urban setting and allowed to grow for 10 years, sequesters 23.2 lbs of carbon, equivalent to 0.039 metric ton CO2. The tree planting offset requirements to achieve a 10-year carbon neutral synthetic turf installation was estimated to be 1861 trees. An environmental responsible organization, UCC took the initiative to offset the GHG emissions related to the synthetic turf life cycle -- from raw material acquisition through manufacturing, transportation, use and maintenance, and end-of-life disposal of the turf field. To that end, UCC will plant trees in order to balance the field’s carbon footprint, and reuse all the topsoil that is removed during construction. In taking on the challenge of sustainability, UCC has moved to install a “carbon neutral” artificial turf field on its campus.