There are many and varied reasons for the increasing popularity of synthetic turf – it provides a resilient, lush, grass-like sports field for year-round play; maintenance costs are lower; it saves water; eliminates the use of toxic pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides; and uses over 100 million used auto and truck tires that would otherwise be discarded or landfilled. Currently, there are over 8,000 synthetic turf sports fields in use in the U.S. Synthetic grass for landscape and recreation use is the fastest growing segment of the synthetic turf market and accounts for over one-third of the total worldwide market.

Currently, there are over 8,000 synthetic turf sports fields in use in the U.S.

Synthetic turf is designed to simulate the experience of practicing and playing on the best grass fields. Demand has grown to the point where more than 8,000 synthetic turf fields are currently being used in North America by a growing number of high school and college athletes. Also, about half of all NFL teams currently play their home games on synthetic turf. Major installations for contact sports account for 62 percent of the global market, followed by 38 percent that includes leisure and landscaping areas.

Year-round field use

Today’s synthetic turf is a solution for playing fields that suffer in severe climates or from overuse. It is hard for a grass field to remain lush and resilient if used more than three or four days a week, in the rain, or during months when grass is dormant.

Consider the difference between two NFL playoff fields in play recently, FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., and Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. FedEx Field was mostly dirt since the grass had died from overuse and could not regenerate in the winter months, while the synthetic turf in Gillette Stadium looked and played just as it did when it was installed. Well-maintained synthetic turf sports fields will withstand heavy use and simulate the experience of playing on grass fields regardless of the season.

Regular grooming is a critical part of synthetic turf maintenance.

At Piqua High School in Piqua, Ohio, the addition of a synthetic turf field provided four advantages over natural grass: During inclement weather it serves as a practice area for all of the Piqua football teams; it can be used for junior and senior physical education classes; provides an area for other interscholastic sports activities; and it eliminated the concerns regarding mud on the field, mowing and ongoing maintenance. The synthetic turf field also allows for school band competitions and other activities.

For the Cotting School in Lexington, Mass., students with disabilities never had the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities. The lack of an accessible outdoor field presented problems for many of the students, particularly those who use wheelchairs and walkers that would sink into natural grass playing surfaces.

“The opportunity to create a synthetic playing field on our campus is a dream come true for our students,” stated David Manzo, president of the Cotting School. “Children who use wheelchairs or walkers often are left on the sidelines for sports due to difficulties of moving on grass playing fields. Our field is used for gym classes, after-school activities and weekend league play. It gives students with physical challenges the opportunity to participate, just like their typically developing peers. The field has literally leveled the playing field for all of the students, and promoted health and wellness through exercise and outdoor activity.

Maintaining a synthetic turf field

With thousands of synthetic turf fields being installed each year in the U.S., it’s essential that field owners understand the basic maintenance guidelines in order to maximize the investment and benefits of a synthetic turf surface.

Through a combination of regular maintenance and performance testing, a synthetic turf field will provide many years of usage. While the frequency of maintenance activities should be defined by the field builder, a general rule of thumb is 10:1 – for every 10 hours of playing time there will be one hour of maintenance work.

Through a combination of regular maintenance and performance testing, a synthetic turf field will provide many years of usage.

While the maintenance and upkeep of an infilled synthetic surface is considerably less than other designs, it must be properly applied. Maintenance should be performed by personnel trained and knowledgeable about the specific materials of the installed system and the proper equipment to use for field maintenance.

Personnel should be prequalified, and are generally employed by facility management, outsourced by facility management to a maintenance subcontractor, or contracted by the manufacturer of the system.

All parties involved need to be aware of the important role that proper maintenance plays in achieving the best overall performance of the synthetic turf system.

A well-executed maintenance strategy will continue to be an important factor in the longevity and playability of any synthetic turf field; therefore, it is imperative for synthetic field owners to have a plan in place to ensure the field performs safely and at its highest potential.

The Synthetic Turf Council recently developed voluntary performance and maintenance guidelines that provide owners with objective maintenance guidance to augment the information during the buying process. All maintenance requirements and procedures made by the company or companies providing the warranty for the field and the installation should be strictly followed. There are four key areas that drive the need for objective synthetic turf maintenance guidelines:

  • maximize the appearance and longevity of the synthetic turf;
  • ensure maximum performance and playability;
  • field usage topics and special circumstances; and
  • field warranty requirements.
  • Find the latest version of the Synthetic Turf Council’s voluntary performance and maintenance guidelines at

Environmental benefits

Even though millions of people, schools, businesses and homeowners use synthetic turf for sports fields and play and landscape areas, one of its major benefits is the environment.

As of 2012, the estimated total amount of synthetic turf installed in North America conserves more than 3 billion gallons of water. Depending on the region of the country, one full-size synthetic turf sports field can save 500,000 to 1 million gallons of water each year.

Water conservation isn’t the only benefit. Most current synthetic turf sports fields feature crumb rubber infill recycled from used tires, keeping more than 105 million used tires out of landfills. The estimated amount of synthetic turf currently installed has also eliminated the need for nearly 1 billion pounds of pesticides and fertilizers. In addition, synthetic turf helps reduce noxious emissions that could be harmful to the environment. According to the EPA, lawn mowers are a significant source of pollution that impairs lung function, inhibits plant growth, and is a key ingredient of smog.

Using synthetic turf can also help environmentally conscientious builders and specifiers with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) project certification from the U.S. Green Building Council in the area of water-efficient landscaping, recycled content, rapidly renewable material and innovation in design.

Recycling synthetic turf

Due to the heightened sense of environmental awareness, many customers are looking for sustainable solutions that lead to complete life cycle management, from initial installation, through the life span of the field, continuing through the removal of the old field and installation of a new one.

One of the challenges the synthetic turf industry is working on is determining how best to manage the removal and disposition of synthetic turf once it has reached the end of its useful life.

As with any recovery and recycle effort, the diversity of component materials represents a technical and economic challenge. Synthetic turf includes a variety of polymers such as polyethylene, polypropylene, nylon, styrene butadiene rubber and polyurethane. Natural materials such as silica sand and calcium carbonate are also present. These materials must be separated in order to be recycled, and the variety presents a unique challenge not seen in other recycled materials like plastic bottles, carpet or plastic bags.

An assortment of technologies and processes are now being developed to reduce landfill dependence. These include processes for removing and separating turf materials to the extent possible into materials that can be recycled or reused. They also include development of new materials for turf construction that are more environmentally friendly.

The Synthetic Turf Council has developed guidelines that address the issues with removal, reclamation and recycling of synthetic turf. The industry is working hard to identify the best and most economical approaches to remove and process synthetic turf materials that have reached their end of life.

Synthetic turf continues to be a viable and popular option, especially in places where grass can’t easily grow or be maintained. Students, entire communities and the environment are benefiting as a result of all synthetic turf has to offer, as properly maintained synthetic sports fields allow for limitless hours of safe play.

Terrie Ward is marketing and education director for the Synthetic Turf Council.