Turf Wars: The Grass Awakens

Pomona-Pitzer forward Dillon Jacob PO ’20 launches one of the Sagehens’ first shots during a game on Pomona’s South Athletics Complex, nicknamed the “Turf Field,” on Sept. 14, 2016. (Liam Brooks / The Student Life)

Synthetic grass appears to be the future of sports. Slowly but surely, professional teams are replacing natural grass with artificial grass in their playing fields, like in the $1.3 billion Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta.

At first, the change seems reasonable. Synthetic grass demands less water in its irrigation than natural fields do. Nonetheless, cost and potential health risks make the switch to artificial turf a bigger debate, especially in the 5Cs where only one out of 13 fields is artificial.

For campuses that work together to achieve better sustainability, shifting to more artificial grass fields seems like a plausible and efficient way to save water while helping the environment. According to Cornell University’s sports field analyses, in order to stay healthy, regular grass football fields demand about 40,000 gallons of water every week—much of which does not come from rainfall in Southern California.

The Sacramento Bee also cited that a synthetic grass football field, which would still need to be watered – especially on warm days to cool off the grass’s heat –  would only need about 7,000 gallons of water every week, saving valuable water.

Finally, synthetic grass fields are an efficient solution to recycle waste tires, since the black rubber pieces in synthetic grass are actually made out of crumb rubber, the material used in car wheels.

Nonetheless, sustainability comes at a high price. According to Cornell University’s sports field analyses, normal grass fields can cost $150,000 to install, with a maintenance cost of about $40,000 for 10 years. At the same time, synthetic grass company Field Turf estimates their installation cost to be about $320,000 with a total maintenance cost of $50,000 after 10 years. Additionally, as reported by the University of Arkansas, synthetic turf needs to be renovated every 8 to 10 years, with disposal costs that can reach $130,000.

Furthermore, there has been a lot of talk regarding synthetic grass’ potential harm. Some people fear the effects on people who come in contact with the recycled crumb rubber in synthetic grass, which contains a very small quantity of lead and other chemicals.  Others have raised the concern that synthetic grass can cause an increase in injury rates.

The scientific community generally fails to reach a consensus on these concerns as various studies counter each other on the subject. However, it is something to consider.

At the 5Cs, this issue has become a matter of trade-offs. When looking at whether or not to implement synthetic grass across the schools, administrations must consider if the benefits to sustainability are worth the added cost and possible dangers of synthetic grass.

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