[No. 05] Current theory and practice of dealing with used artificial turf fields. First, an explanatory word about the underlined segment of the title to this piece. It would have been easy to title this piece “Current theory and practice of disposal of artificial turf fields.” The problem with using the term “disposal” is that it does not convey completely the breadth of what happens to artificial turf fields once they are removed from a particular location. The term, “disposal” would commonly mean that the plastic carpet, backing, underlay and the infill are thrown away as waste, making room for a new surface. While the “owner” of the field subjectively may call the activity “disposal,” the fact remains that a worn or removed field objectively may not be at the end of its life. There are plenty of stories about how a venue takes out its field and donates it to another venue/user. Just recently we posted a story about one such “hand-me down” scenario. See “Tale of Two Sites: Poor Management in Las Vegas & Embarrassment of Riches in Portland” at http://www.synturf.org/maintenancereplacement.html (Item No. 109). We reserve judgment on the wisdom of passing down or receiving a product that obviously is no longer fit for use, but some poor organization or neighborhood considers it a blessing to receive it.
Thanks to the folks at the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition (http://www.safehealthyplayingfields.org/ ) and the Environment and Human Health, Inc. (www.ehhi.org), in May 2016 we received a correspondence thread about disposal protocols for artificial turf fields. With thanks to one particular “Sheldon” for digging up some links to industry literature on the issue, here is what we gleaned from the rest of the contents.
According to an article published in Recreation Management Magazine - “’A typical field is about 600,000 pounds of material. In 2011, 180 fields were removed in the United States, and 90 percent of those went into a landfill,’ said Mark Mitchell, president and owner of Mitchell Machine Works, which specializes in design-build machinery for the manufacture, installation and removal of synthetic turf. ‘In 2012, an anticipated 250 to 300 fields will be removed. In 2013, the number jumps again with approximately 500 to 700 fields being removed.’ … ‘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.’”
“The artificial turf fields that were initially installed [circa 2005] had a life span of eight to 10 years. That means the number of fields that are coming up per year for replacement is increasing. ‘In the next five years and on into the future, we are going to see a lot of municipalities and institutions that need to replace their synthetic turf fields and infill,’ said Mark Novak, Stantec consulting SportGroup leader for the United States and Canada, focusing on the design of athletic and recreational facilities. ‘These fields typically had eight-year warranties. In some cases, they were originally installed a decade or more ago, and they have fulfilled their useful lifespan.’ At the same time the number of fields needing to be replaced is increasing, there is also a high level of interest in being environmentally responsible with what happens to the old fields. This emerging trend of figuring out how to best recycle the various components of the field is something every field manager should be concerned with because it affects the costs associated with replacing the artificial turf field.”
According to the Recreation Management Magazine article some manufacturers “utilize 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.” Tammy York, “Greener Grass Awaits: Environmental & Fiscal Responsibility Team Up in Synthetic Turf” at http://recmanagement.com/feature_print.php?fid=201202fe02 . Seehere for the pdf version of the article.
All this gives us at SynTurf.org the (mis)impression that the artificial turf industry is being very aggressive in manufacturing products that are more sustainable and can be repurposed. The fact of the matter is that the industry is interested in installation (sales) of these fields where the big profits lie and is in the least interested in what to do with the playing surfaces that are removed – that is someone else’s headache. While these repurposing solutions theoretically lower the demand for virgin material, the fact is that the virgin material is cheaper to obtain and manufacture, which is only helpful to the industry’s bottom line. While the Synthetic Turf Council, according to the article, “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,” let us not lose sight of the fact that this sort of “environmental conscientiousness” on the part of the industry is just a marketing ploy to make the sale—a perfunctory addressing of the issue of disposal because it is being raised at the municipal level by concerned citizens. Not until the cost of land-filling or incinerating the useless artificial turf material reaches a critical level for the industry will we see a genuine move by the market to finance and develop environmentally sound repurposing and disposal for the material.
The website of Turf Reclamation Solution (TRS) contains two article of note: One is an overview from the perspective of TRS President Mark Heinlein; it is at once informative and alarming: “The number of synthetic turf fields reaching their end-of-life in the U.S. is exploding. By 2018, more than 1,000 fields will need to be replaced every year – every year for decades to come. This means that each year nearly 100 million square feet of turf and half a billion pounds of sand/rubber infill will need to find a new home. If destined for the landfill, it is a staggering amount of waste. If not the landfill, then what? First, let’s talk turf. There are several opportunities for diverting synthetic turf from the landfill following its sports field days. One option is that the material is re-used, or repurposed. Common re-uses include batting cage surfaces, dog runs, or even reinstallation for low level rec surfaces. A second, and more sustainable option, is processing the turf into feedstock for the plastic molding industry. This includes a huge array of molded plastic parts, as well as things like plasticized lumber, plastic pallets, flooring, and non-critical auto parts, just to name a few examples. Taking turf from the field and returning it to commerce as a new plastic good is referred to as ‘down-cycling’ and is an affordable, sustainable, and environmentally responsible practice.”
Here is the alarming stuff: “Now what about the existing sand/rubber infill? There are plenty of alternative uses for this material after it has served its purpose in the field. There is equipment available that can extract essentially all of the infill out of the old carpet right on site, making it available for installation back into the new field. It can also be used for topdressing natural grass fields or be blended into garden soil mixes. If the infill components can be separated from each other, the potential uses increase dramatically because you now have discrete products with a wide range of applications.” (Emphasis added). Source: Sarah Shewmaker, “President of TRS Spreads the Word on What Happens to Used Turf,” June 19, 2014, at http://www.recyclingartificialturf.com/tags/landfill . Seehere for the pdf of the article.
The other article on TRS’s website discusses the end-of-life scenarios for artificial turf fields. These are:
“Landfill. This is the simplest and most common way to handle the synthetic turf waste stream. Even though it’s the easiest thing to do, it’s not always the most cost effective. While landfill costs in the Midwest average around $10,000, it could cost 5 times that amount on the East and West Coasts. And after the material hits the dump, it’s a lost resource.”
“Waste to Energy. This approach takes the synthetic turf and incinerates it at a high temperature, extracting the BTUs (energy trapped in the product). This energy is then used to heat a boiler and generate electricity. Some amount of residential carpet is handled in this way via the Carpet America Recovery Effort. In a WTE process, the volume of material is typically reduced by 95% while big, powerful scrubbers extract hazardous by-products and ensure that emissions meet strict air quality standards. Critics argue that WTE destroys valuable resources and releases excessive CO2.”
“Repurposing (Reusing). This solution takes a piece of turf that was deemed useless in one application and finds use for it in another (a batting cage, for example). While a good short-term solution, the reality is that once the field is divvied up into smaller pieces, the chances for recycling are greatly reduced. The other stark reality is that the repurposed market will soon be flooded with product – about 1,000 synthetic turf fields will be removed in 2016. That’s over 80 million square feet of old turf.”
“Recycling. This is the ultimate solution, turning seemingly useless waste into useful plastic goods. These goods can continue to be recycled, creating a closed loop, allow resources to be reused (and not mined) and perpetually delay their trip to the landfill. This is arguably the most difficult solution as it requires specialized machinery to remove and separate the field, and some advanced chemistry to make polyethylene, polypropylene, polyurethane, polyester and/or nylon compatible. TRS can bring all of that together in a turnkey process and once this is done, the applications for molded plastic goods that are only limited by imagination. This option has the best chance for long-term sustainability.” Source: Adam Coleman, “What Happens to Used Turf? Lifecycle Options for Synthetic Turf,” 1 October 2013, at http://www.recyclingartificialturf.com/tags/landfill . Seehere for pdf of the article.
In practice, however, we have come to learn that artificial turf fields are treated as regular household garbage, even though it has materials associated with it that one cannot dispose of in normal household a trash destined for the landfill!
Alan Pultyniewicz is Recycling Coordinator for Montgomery County [Maryland] Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Solid Waste Services. According to an email from him to a member of the Safe Healthy Playing Fields Coalition, dated 14 October 2015, based on consultation with Peter Karasik, Chief of the Central Operations Section of the Division of Solid Waste Services, who oversees the Montgomery County Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station, “[s]ynthetic ‘artificial’ turf is not a regulated waste, and therefore is managed as municipal solid waste in Montgomery County. If any synthetic “artificial” turf is disposed of in the county’s solid waste stream, the material is loaded out through the compactors at the Transfer Station and is sent to the Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) for processing. A large amount of synthetic turf - in bulk or in large sections, delivered to the Transfer Station could potentially jam the compactors at the Transfer Station or the feed chutes at the RRF, resulting in manageable operational issues. Other than that, synthetic turf is not an issue in regards to the County’s solid waste management system.”
As ascertained by the Environment and Human Health, Inc. the protocol for disposing of synthetic turf fields in Connecticut according to the Director of Waste Engineering and Enforcement Division Bureau of Materials Management and Compliance Assurance at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) is as follows: (1) a permit from the CT DEEP is needed to dispose a synthetic turf field; (2) the old synthetic turf field will be land filled somewhere - not in Connecticut - as there is not enough room left in state’s landfills; (3) the costs of disposing the old synthetic turf field will include: (a) transportation costs to a designated out-of-state landfill; (b) paying the landfill itself to take the old synthetic turf field (the actual cost is set by market conditions of waste supply and compliance with operating permits).
[No. 04] Vicinity of Olympic Park, Schaumburg, Illinois -- Shameful if not illegal discard/disposal/dumping of crumb rubber and worn synthetic turf material in Water District area. The following pictures tell all that one needs to know about the irresponsible if not illegal conduct of whoever thought it was a good idea to dump bagfuls of crumb rubber and discarded stretches of synthetic grass material in the area of close to Schaumburg Water Reclamation District. In this short link to the Google Map at https://goo.gl/maps/GSeWWU6K9Yt the pile of synthetic turf rolls is clearly visible. We are grateful to Robert Dixon of Riverside, Illinois, a concerned parent and of 10-year old soccer goalie, for this item and the pictures. Material received on 21 March 2016. Posted on 1 April 2016.
[No. 03] Removing an artificial turf surface. Ever wondered how an artificial turf field is taken up? Here is a video of machinery at work. Notice that none of the folks manning these machines is wearing protective gear! Is this just an oversight, OSHA exemption, or a ploy to impress the public about zero-health hazard of inhaling harmful material like rubber dust and sand during the removal process? Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eWlf9Kc3Gc&feature=youtu.be (published on 19 January 2016). In order to see what we are talking about see this one for what blows in the wind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zIGvSzIrWI (published on 20 May 2010).
[No. 02] Middletown, New Jersey: Town plans to dispose of old turf in garbage.According to a report in The Independent (October 2, 2008), the turf field at Middletown High School North “is currently being cut up, and the only place the turf would go … into the garbage.” “The turf is going to dumpsters,” said Board of Education Attorney Christopher Parton. According to Parton, the contractor cuts the field into a checkerboard and remove the square panels. “Our original plan was to roll it up and do whatever,” he said. When the contractor has been directed to remove the turf, it “tried a theory of vacuuming all of the ambient rubber out and rolling up the turf; that did not work,” said Parton. The removal of he field is being necessitated because the first installer, Mondo USA’s failed to come back and fix work done on the field. Source: Jamir Romm, “Turft hits the curb at H.S. North,” in The Independent (Freehold, New Jersey), October 2, 2008, available at t is http://independent.gmnews.com/news/2008/1002/front_page/009.html .
[No. 01] Where do dead turf fields go?SynTurf.org, Newton, Mass. October 3, 2008. In Massachusetts and many other states, used tires are handled as hazardous waste, subject to special handling by the municipal and state solid waste management system. No used tire is supposed to end up in regular garbage. Here, as in many other parts of the country, an enlightened citizenry supposed to spare the landfills of plastics and other non-biodegradable items that can be recycled.
Most artificial turf fields in the United States contains 100 tons of crumb rubber, most of which is made of used tires – 22,000 used tires are processed to yield 100 tons of crumb rubber. The carpet itself and the geo-textile that supports it are made of a variety of plastics and nylons. Then why is it that the turf industry and municipal, state and federal authorities are looking the other way when hundreds of tons crumb rubber – with all of its toxic substances – and thousands upon thousands of square yards of artificial turf carpets are being disposed off in our nation’s regular landfills?
In five to six years, when the currently in-use artificial turf fields are due to be replaced, the disposal of old fields and its toxic infill will swamp our landfills in a volume that, under current handling procedures, will overwhelm the solid waste management system. The current disposal of artificial turf fields and rubber infill is fraught with environmental and health hazards. One can only imagine the potential for harm when thousands of fields are ripped out and taken to landfills, from which the leachate, particulates and off-gassedharmful substances can make its way into soil, air and water.
The time for regulating the environmentally-safe disposal of artificial turf, or its recycling, is now. Six years from now, it will be too late.