Organically managed grass athletic fields vs artificial turf
Why build artificial turf sports fields? Are there alternatives?
Both questions are surprisingly easy to answer. Artificial turf fields can be played in any weather, which extends game time and provides a more reliable sports schedule. However, there are financial and environmental costs that are well documented for these man-made fields. The crumb rubber used for filling material is poisonous. Wetlands, ponds, and creeks, and the general ecosystem, are contaminated with crumb rubber and tiny broken strands from the plastic carpet. Even the plastic beads used for the latest generation of non-toxic filling can drain into rivers and combine with the rest of the plastic streams and oceans around the world. And the cost of disposing of these fields after 10 to 12 years can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Are there any suitable alternatives? Yes! UMass Lowell’s Toxics Use Reduction Institute has published two case studies showing how organic playing fields in Springfield and Marblehead, as well as artificial turf and much better than conventionally managed natural grass sports fields, have performed. Withstanding heavy rain, regular exercise, and community use, these organic fields can be played for an entire season with no time wasted at the beginning of the year until they dry out. They are not contaminated with chemicals. The soil and grass are restored with organic products and gradually strengthened to become a healthy, resilient playing surface. Instead of ecological damage, they contribute to a healthy ecosystem and increased biodiversity.
How is that achieved? At the beginning of the process, the soil is tested for properties such as moisture, PH, texture and organic content. It is tested for nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, nitrates, and calcium. The biological content is assessed in terms of the proportion of bacteria, fungi and nematodes in the soil. At both Marblehead and Springfield, these tests resulted in detailed maintenance plans being drawn up. In Springfield, two rounds of organic fertilizer a year, one round of conditioner, and lime once a year. Ventilating the fields is key and is done four times a year. The use of grass seeds was negligible. Maintenance costs gradually decreased as the grass and soil became healthier. Soil surveys continued every two to three years. The total annual cost of maintenance per acre was $ 1,460.
Organic lawns work just as well as artificial turf and do not have to be torn up and disposed of as plastic waste every 10 to 12 years. Well cared for, they contribute to the health of the soil and the ecosystem. They are safer, cooler, and preferred by gamers. At Concord, where we value both exercise and our healthy natural environment, they are clearly the best choice.
For more information on natural grass pitches, please visit https://guides.turi.org/artificialturf.
Myles is a member of Grass Fields for Safe Sports and was previously an education manager at the Toxics Use Reduction Institute