What is artificial grass?

Artificial grass manufacturing: how & what is it made of

The concept of artificial grass first came about in the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that it began to be manufactured.

How is artificial grass manufactured?

Artificial grass is tufted with the same methods used in making carpets. The difference in raw materials used for artificial grass means that they can be manufactured in different ways. For instance, artificial grass blades can be made in narrow sheets or thrust through moulds to make rounded or oval fibres. But for the most part, artificial grass manufacturing is the following:

  • Firstly, the artificial turf “ingredients” are mixed together in a hopper, before colours and chemicals are combined so that the grass has its signature green shade and is immune to UV damage.
  • Next, the mixture is poured into a big steel mixer that stirs the mixture until it has thickened.
  • The liquid is then placed into an extruder and come out as an elongated, slender strands to emulate real blades of grass.
  • After this, the strands are put on a carding machine and rotated into a loose rope. The lax rope is tightened and woven into a yarn.
  • Next, the woven shape is set through it being heated.
  • The yarn is then placed in a tufting machine where a needles pierces the underside layer of the turf and feeds the yarn into the loop. Hundreds of needles and hundreds of rows of stitches are made.
  • The artificial grass is then rolled out and coated with latex on its underside.
  • The artificial grass is fed through an oven which cures the latex
  • Finally, the artificial turf is rolled and packaged.

What is artificial grass made from?

Artificial grass is made from the synthetic materials. The three main materials are:

  • Polyethylene – which is long-lasting and gentle on the skin.
  • Polypropylene – which is also long-last but harsher and resilient.
  • Nylon – which is very robust and often used in products such as gold driving mats due to its high burn tolerance.

After 50 years of development, artificial grass is now in its third generation. The third generation of artificial grass is now a lot similar to real grass and is UV ray resistant and tolerant to wear, tear and abrasion. It also has longer fibres and contains a thatch.

Polyethylene is used to make the blades of artificial grass, and is a popular form of plastic that is used to make things such as plastic carrier bags and bottles. Polyethylene originally comes in a solid shape, and has to be melted down and mixed with colours and other special agents (such as UV resistant supplements).

Polypropylene is made for the thatch layer. The thatch layer cushions the turf and gives an additional supportive layer. The grass blades are added into the turf backing via a tufting machine, which makes the blades and thatch have a secure fit.

Artificial grass installation

If you’d like more information on how artificial grass is installed, view our installation guide.

Heavenly Greens Blog

Artificial turf has been used for several decades in professional football stadiums and other sporting venues. Its durability and resemblance to natural grass makes it extremely versatile and ideal for everything from replacing natural grass lawns to enhancing patios and creating recreational areas. The materials used in its construction make it virtually maintenance free and resistant to daily wear and tear.

The Grass

Different materials provide different levels of resistance. For example, nylon is commonly used in synthetic turf used for golf courses because it is both strong and durable. When mixed with other components, it creates a material that is extremely resistant to wear and requires little to no maintenance whatsoever. The combination of materials used in the grass blades prevents matting, fraying and tearing. This makes it suitable for almost any type of use from indoor/outdoor decking to landscaping needs.

Several different materials have been used in the construction of artificial grass blades.

The most common include:

  • Polyethylene

  • Polypropyline

  • Nylon

  • A combination of any of the above

The Filler

Once artificial turf is installed, a filler is used to stabilize it and provide a modest cushion, much like the soil under natural grass. Several different materials have been used as filler. Different materials work better for different purposes. The most common fillers used include:

  • Sand – often used on golf courses and putting greens

  • Crumb rubber – primarily used on playgrounds, sports fields and other athletic venues

  • Pea gravel – commonly used on residential lawns and landscaped areas around the home

Filler materials are extremely fine and are used to fill gaps, crevices and small openings within the mesh backing. The filler serves several purposes. It holds the turf securely in place and stabilizes the blades of grass allowing them to remain upright and move much like their natural grass counterparts. It also acts as a leach bed, allowing water to gradually seep through and be drained away.

The amount of area to be covered and its purpose will determine the type of filler chosen to stabilize the turf. Crumb rubber is extremely cost effective and does not break down or get carried away on clothing or shoes. Sand and pea gravel are more expensive, but tend to settle and become more compact. This makes the surface look and feel more like natural grass.

The Backing

Artificial turf backing is made from basically the same materials used in the construction of the blades. Whether the material is to be used for the surface or the mesh backing that is never seen from the top, all of the components used in the construction of artificial turf must meet or exceed the same standards for strength, color, durability and general wear. Adhesives that are used must be strong enough to hold the turf together but safe enough to not harm the environment. Polypropyline, polyethylene and nylon are all used in varying amounts in the manufacturing of the threads that are used to sew the layers of turf together.

Materials used in the construction of artificial turf are the same used in the making of carpeting, plastic bottles, water pipes, plastic storage bowls and toys. Because of how it is used and its constant exposure to the elements, people and pets. Artificial turf must be able to stand up to constant foot traffic, resist damage caused by extreme weather conditions and be able to drain away excess water. Most types of synthetic grass are also resistant to various types of bacteria and germs that accumulate through its constant use. The materials and components used in the turf’s construction are blended together in such a way as to create a versatile and incredibly durable product that can last several years with no maintenance and few repairs.

what is artificial grass made from?

This is a common question we get asked all the time. We’ve taken this article from the ‘artificial grass’ page of the Turf King website because we thought it was useful as a part of our ‘artificial grass buyers guide’ series of blogs…

There are three materials commonly used in the manufacture of artificial grass…

  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Nylon

In most circumstances Polyethylene is the most suitable material for the manufacture of artificial grass.

here are some reasons why…

PP is a stiffer and harder material than PE and we’ve found in our own experience of buying artificial grass PP products tend to be much shinier than polyethylene.

PP is known to produce a higher static charge than PE so it will generate more static energy with the potential for static shocks.

PP is a more rigid material and is more prone to breakages and tears than PE which is more flexible.

PP is more vulnerable to be damaged by UV and heat.

PP is a cheaper material to buy as PE is a purer product.

Nylon has many properties that make it a fantastic material for artificial grass but it is the most porous material out of the three and as such it’s not recommended for use where the grass may come into contact with animals which includes most landscape applications.

a note about Polyethylene…

Polyethylene is manufactured in a variety of grades – C2, C4, C6 and C8 in which the number denominates the number of carbons in the polymer.

When it comes to artificial grass C2 and C4 are the most commonly used grades of polyethylene. We recommend either C6 and C8 grade polyethylene in products as this will provide the best material functionality whilst retaining important characteristics such as not being too stiff, shiny or soft. Combining the properties of these polymers creates products that ultimately are structured to have the best product life-cycle possible.

Despite advances in material production and processing allowing manufacturers the opportunity to use very high grade plastics very few choose to do this – most following the old “if it aint broke..” mantra. At Turf King we pride ourselves on sourcing and selling only the very best, highest quality artificial grass products available. We don’t do ‘lite’ or ‘budget’ products.

Above: Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

We can’t ignore the aesthetic value of synthetic turf. Available in an array of blade lengths, colors, and textures (including variegated strands), the new generation of synthetic grass can fool most.

Above: A lawn of artificial grass in SF-based architect Barbara Chambers’s garden. Photograph by Liesa Johannssen for Gardenista.

“I would never had thought I would be a fan of fake anything, but I’m sold,” Chambers says. For more of her garden, see Architect Visit: Barbara Chambers at Home in Mill Valley.

“I love my artificial grass. They have come a long way with the design, texture, and color,” Chambers says, “There is no way you can tell my lawn is fake unless I confess.”

How has the synthetic grass fared in Chambers garden? “I’ve had my artificial grass for almost two years, and it still looks like new—no maintenance, no fuss, no gophers, and no water,” she says. “While the cost was very high to install, I’m certain it’s paid for itself by now. Best of all, it looks amazing all the time.”

Above: In Brooklyn homeowner Rony Vardi’s backyard has a lawn of artificial turf. “It’s the greatest,” says Vardi. “Five kids play here, it drains well, we have fewer mosquitoes, and no one has to mow.” Read more at Brooklyn Makeover: A Homey Townhouse with a Modern Garret on Remodelista. Photograph by Pia Ulin, courtesy of Bangia Agostinho Architecture.

Artificial Grass: Drawbacks

While synthetic grass may look and feel like the real thing some simply can’t get past the fact that it’s plastic. It is hailed for its water-saving benefits, but artificial turf has its own environmental drawbacks. It is a petroleum-based product that creates pollution and waste in the manufacturing process. And, while it is often made partially with recycled materials, it is not biodegradable. After a long life of from 15 to 25 years, it will, ultimately, end up in a landfill.

Critics point to synthetic turf as an environmental heater. It absorbs heat and feel hot to the touch in direct sun. Pet owners give synthetic grass a mixed review. It does not absorb animal waste (but is permeable so liquids pass through to the ground underneath).

Lawn Alternatives

Nonplastic alternatives to real turf that will stand up to heavy foot traffic and offer soft landing for kids’ play areas include: wood mulch (sometimes called “playground chips”), ground covers that require little water and maintenance (see Fields of Green: 5 Favorite Lawn Substitutes), and decomposed granite (see Low-Cost Luxury: 9 Ways to Use Decomposed Granite in a Landscape).

Above: Christine’s backyard terrace is carpeted with artificial grass, a surface that stands up to pets, teenage boys, and variable English weather. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Gardenista.

For more environmentally friendly ways to live with a lawn, see:

  • Best Reel Mowers.
  • Guide to Sustainable Landscape Design.
  • Fields of Green: 5 Favorite Lawn Substitutes.
  • Landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck: 11 Tips for Designing a Water-Conscious Garden.

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow and care for various grasses with our Grasses: A Field Guide.

Artificial Turf

Background

Artificial turf is a surfacing material used to imitate grass. It is generally used in areas where grass cannot grow, or in areas where grass maintenance is impossible or undesired. Artificial turf is used mainly in sports stadiums and arenas, but can also be found on playgrounds and in other spaces.

Artificial turf has been manufactured since the early 1960s, and was originally produced by Chemstrand Company (later renamed Monsanto Textiles Company). It is produced using manufacturing processes similar to those used in the carpet industry. Since the 1960s, the product has been improved through new designs and better materials. The newest synthetic turf products have been chemically treated to be resistant to ultraviolet rays, and the materials have been improved to be more wear-resistant, less abrasive, and, for some applications, more similar to natural grass.

History

In the early 1950s, the tufting process was invented. A large number of needles insert filaments of fiber into a fabric backing. Then a flexible adhesive like polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride is used to bind the fibers to the backing. This is the procedure used for the majority of residential and commercial carpets. A tufting machine can produce a length of carpet that is 15 ft (4.6 m) wide and more than 3 ft (1 m) long in one minute.

In the early 1960s, the Ford Foundation, as part of its mission to advance human achievement, asked science and industry to develop synthetic playing surfaces for urban spaces. They hoped to give urban children year-round play areas with better play quality and more uses than the traditional concrete, asphalt, and compacted soil of small urban playgrounds. In 1964, the first installation of the new playing surface called Chemgrass was installed at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1966, artificial turf was first used in professional major-league sports and gained its most famous brand name when the Astrodome was opened in Houston, Texas. By the first game of the 1966 season, artificial turf was installed, and the brand name Chemgrass was changed to AstroTurf. (Although the name AstroTurf is used as a common name for all types of artificial turf, the name is more accurately used only for the products of the AstroTurf Manufacturing Company.)

Artificial turf also found its way into the applications for which it was originally conceived, and artificial turf was installed at many inner-city playgrounds. Some schools and recreation centers took advantage of artificial turfs properties to convert building roofs into “grassy” play areas.

After the success of the Astrodome installation, the artificial turf market expanded with other manufacturers entering the field, most notably the 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing) Company with its version known as Tartan Turf. The widespread acceptance of artificial turf also led to the boom in closed and domed stadium construction around the world.

In the early 1970s, artificial turf came under scrutiny due to safety and quality concerns. Some installations, often those done by the number of companies that sprang up to cash in on the trend, began to deteriorate. The turf would wear too quickly, seams would come apart, and the top layer would soon degrade from exposure to sunlight. Athletes and team doctors began to complain about the artificial surfaces, and blamed the turf for friction burns and blisters. Natural turf yields to the force of a blow, but an arm or leg driven along the unyielding surface of artificial turf is more likely to be injured. Since artificial turf does not have the same cooling effects as natural turf, surface temperatures can be 30° warmer above the artificial surfaces. Baseball players claimed that a ball would bounce harder and in less predictable ways, and some soccer players claimed that the artificial surface makes the ball roll faster, directly affecting the game. However, the National Football League and the Stanford Research Institute declared in 1974 that artificial turf was not a health hazard to professional football players, and its use continued to spread.

In the 1990s, biological turf began to make a comeback when a marketing of nostalgia in professional sport resulted in the re-emergence of outdoor stadiums. Many universities—responding to the nostalgia, advances in grass biology, and the fears about increased risk of injury on artificial turf—began to reinstall natural turf systems. However, natural turf systems continue to require sunlight and maintenance (mowing, watering, fertilizing, aerating), and the surface may deteriorate in heavy rain. Artificial turf offers a surface that is nearly maintenance-free, does not require sunlight, and has a drainage system. Recent developments in the artificial turf industry are new systems that have simulated blades of grass supported by an infill material so the “grass” does not compact. The resulting product is closer to the look and feel of grass than the older, rug-like systems. Because of these factors, artificial turf will probably continue to be a turf surface option for communities, schools, and professional sports teams.

The Houston Astrodome.

Dubbed “The Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Houston Astrodome opened April 9, 1965 for the first major-league baseball game ever played indoors. Americans hailed the massive $48.9-million concrete, steel, and plastic structure as a historic engineering feat. A rigid dome shielded the 150,000-ft 2 (13,935 m 2 ) playing field of natural grass from the Texas heat, wind, and rain. The Astrodome was the world’s first permanently covered stadium.

The roof—642 ft (196 m) in diameter and constructed on the principles of American architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome—contained 4,596 rectangular panes of Lucite, an acrylic material designed to allow the sun to shine through without casting shadows. Still, the Houston Astros baseball team soon complained that the resulting glare made it difficult to catch fly balls. Stadium officials tinted the Lucite gray, but the tint was not good for the grass, which turned a sickly shade of brown. As a result, when the team took to the field for the 1966 season, their spikes dug into another revolutionary baseball first: synthetic grass. Today, AstroTurf—as the material was called—blankets more than 500 sports arenas in 32 countries.

The Astrodome underwent $60 million worth of renovations to increase its seating capacity in 1989. As the years went on, new technology developed making this “Eighth Wonder” outdated. The Astros played their last game at the Astrodome on October 9, 1999 before moving to Enron Field. The same year, the Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee and were renamed the Tennessee Titans. Despite these losses, the Astrodome still hosts over 300 events a year.

Raw Materials

The quality of the raw materials is crucial to the performance of turf systems. Almost anything used as a carpet backing has been used for the backing material, from jute to plastic to polyester. High quality artificial turf uses polyester tire cord for the backing.

The fibers that make up the blades of “grass” are made of nylon or polypropylene and can be manufactured in different ways. The nylon blades can be produced in thin sheets that are cut into strips or extruded through molds to produce fibers with a round or oval cross-section. The extruded product results in blades that feel and act more like biological grass.

Cushioning systems are made from rubber compounds or from polyester foam. Rubber tires are sometimes used in the composition of the rubber base, and some of the materials used in backing can come from plastic or rubber recycling programs. The thread used to sew the pads together and also the top fabric panels has to meet the same criteria of strength, color retention, and durability as the rest of the system. Care and experience must also be applied to the selection of the adhesives used to bond all the components together.

The Manufacturing
Process

The “grass” part of a turf system is made with the same tufting techniques used in the manufacture of carpets.

  1. The first step is to blend the proprietary ingredients together in a hopper. Dyes and chemicals are added to give the turf its traditional green color and to protect it from the ultraviolet rays from the sun.
  2. After the batch has been thoroughly blended, it is fed into a large steel mixer. The batch is automatically mixed until it has a thick, taffy-like consistency.
  3. The thickened liquid is then fed into an extruder, and exits in a long, thin strand of material.
  4. The strands are placed on a carding machine and spun into a loose rope. The loose ropes are pulled, straightened, and woven into yarn. The nylon yarn is then wound onto large spools.
  5. The yarn is then heated to set the twisted shaped.
  6. Next, the yarn is taken to a tufting machine. The yarn is put on a bar with skewers (a reel) behind the tufting machine. It is then fed through a tube leading to the tufting needle. The needle pierces the primary backing of the turf and pushes the yarn into the loop. A looper, or flat hook, seizes and release the loop of nylon while the needle pulls back up; the backing is shifted forward and the needle once more pierces the How the ingredients of artificial turf are blended. backing further on. This process is carried out by several hundred needles, and several hundred rows of stitches are carried out per minute. The nylon yarn is now a carpet of artificial turf.
  7. The artificial turf carpet is now rolled under a dispenser that spreads a coating of latex onto the underside of the turf. At the same time, a strong secondary backing is also coated with latex. Both of these are then rolled onto a marriage roller, which forms them into a sandwich and seals them together.
  8. The artificial turf is then placed under heat lamps to cure the latex.
  9. The turf is fed through a machine that clips off any tufts that rise above its uniform surface.
  10. Then the turf is rolled into large v/lengths and packaged. The rolls are then shipped to the wholesaler.

Installation

Artificial turf installation and maintenance is as important as its construction.

  1. The base of the installation, which is either concrete or compacted soil, must be leveled by a bulldozer and then smoothed by A profile of artificial turf. a steam roller. Uneven surfaces will still be evident once the turf is supplied.
  2. For outdoor applications, intricate drainage systems must be installed, since the underlying surface can absorb little, if any, rainwater.
  3. Turf systems can be either filled or unfilled. A filled system is designed so that once it is installed, a material such as crumbled cork, rubber pellets, or sand (or a mixture) is spread over the turf and raked down in between the fibers. The material helps support the blades of fiber, and also provides a surface with some give, that feels more like the soil under a natural grass surface. Filled systems have some limitations, however. Filling material like cork may break down or the filling material can become contaminated with dirt and become compacted. In either case the blades are no longer supported. Maintenance may require removing and replacing all of the fill.

Quality Control

Because of the high use of artificial turf and the constant scrutiny by professional athletes, new products must undergo a number of tests as they are being developed. In 1994, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) published a list of standard methods for the testing of synthetic turf systems. It contains over two dozen tests for the properties of turf systems.

As part of ASTM’s testing, the backing fabric is tested for strength. The force it takes to separate the individual tufts or blades is also measured. In tufted turf, this test usually measures the strength of the adhesive involved. To test how resistant the turf is to abrasion, the ASTM recommends testing the fabric by running it under an abrasive head made of spring steel, while another ASTM test measures how abrasive the turf will be to the players. The ASTM also has tests that measure the shock absorbency of the turf system, and there are also tests to see how well the turf stands up during the course of a game or even prolonged tournament play.

Several quality checks are performed during the manufacturing process, as well. For example, according to AstroTurf Incorporated, the following quality checks are performed:19 checks for the raw materials, eight checks for extrusion, six checks for unfinished fabric, and 14 checks for finished fabric.

Byproducts/Waste

Defected artificial turf batches are discarded as are nylon yarn that is damaged. Completed turf is generally recycled, but not reused as artificial turf. The earth that is cleared from the installation site is transported to a landfill and discarded. Older turf that has been worn down is typically recycled.

The arguments about the environmental impact of artificial versus biological turf continue. Both create large amount of water run-off, adding to sewage problems. Chemical processes are used in the manufacture of raw materials for artificial turf, but most biological grass in stadium applications requires chemicals in the form of fertilizer and pesticides for maintenance.

The Future

The engineering and design of both artificial and biological turf systems are constantly improving. As new stadiums are built, the owners and architects strive to give a more old-fashioned feel to the structures, which usually means no dome or a dome that allows the use of biological turf.

Recent installations of artificial turf have included new advancements that serve both economic and environmental needs. Large holding tanks are built beneath outdoor installations. The water that runs off the surface is held in the tanks, and used later for watering practice fields or nearby lawns.

Another recent development has been a hybrid of filled turf and biological grass. Once artificial turf is installed, it is filled not with rubber or sand, but with soil. Grass seed is then planted in the soil, nurtured and grown to a height above that of the artificial turf. The resulting combination combines the feel, look, and comfort of biological turf with the resilience and resistance to tearing and divots of artificial turf. Of course, it also requires all the maintenance of both systems, and it is not suitable for most indoor applications.

Where to Learn More

Books

Schmidt. Natural and Artificial Playing Fields: Characteristics and Safety Features. Portland: Book News, Inc., 1990.

Other

“Manufacturing Information.” AstroTurf Web Page. December 2001. < http://www.astroturf.com >.

Wilson, Nicholas. A Comparison of Filled Artificial Turf with Conventional Alternatives. Portland: 2000.

Steven Guerriero

When temperatures in Bakersfield easily reach into the hundreds on a regular basis, lawn care is one of those projects that you just can’t seem to win, especially if you want full, thick grass and lush green landscaping. These landscapes take a lot of maintenance, care, and water in order to keep them thriving. In this hot climate, it’s essential that you work in some native grasses and possibly even some hardscaping if you want to take that route to minimize the amount of time and money you’re spending on maintenance. But for people who want the best of both worlds (a green landscape that takes minimal care), home and business owners have turned to synthetic turf. Located in Bakersfield and serving the surrounding California communities, Kern Turf Supply can help you create the look you’re trying to achieve for your landscape, whether it’s a playground, golf course, or your backyard.

When shopping for synthetic grass, there are a surprising number of options to consider. At Kern Turf Supply, we have the resources, knowledge, and experience to give you a number of options that will fit your needs. We can provide you with two brands, Easy Turf and Smart Turf, of artificial turf that are easy to care for, saves you money, and lasts longer than traditional grass. So before you make the final decision for your lawn, learn more about the different types of synthetic grass.

Nylon

If you’re looking for a strong, durable grass, nylon is one of the strongest. It’s also a great option for the Bakersfield climate because it can stand up to the high temperatures and there is a lower risk of the grass losing its shape and getting matted down. However, the strands have a stiff feeling so don’t expect a natural feel to the touch. Because of the stiffness, homeowners rarely choose this type unless they want a space to practice their putting. It is commonly used for golf courses. The strength and durability also come at a cost — nylon synthetic turf is one of the more expensive.

Polyethylene

This type is one of the more popular varieties because it has a natural look with bright green colors and natural feeling texture. With the proper care and a higher end polyethylene, the grass is long-lasting and durable. It’s also a great option for homeowners who have pets, as it won’t absorb odors. Caring for the grass includes brushing or raking the strands to keep them standing tall. Overall, polyethylene synthetic grass looks and feels natural, but be sure to select a product that will withstand abuse as lower quality products can wear down more easily.

Polypropylene

While this type is the least expensive, it’s also the least durable. This synthetic grass will more quickly break down due to extreme heat and everyday wear and tear. Over time, the grass will begin to lose its shape and the strands of grass will become matted down in high traffic areas. This variety can work well when you simply want an accent piece in your home or want a small space outside to practice golfing.

Other Choices

  • Short: If you go too short, it may not look as natural.
  • Medium: The typical grass is between 30mm and 37mm, which is high enough to look natural, but not too high so it’s hard to stand or walk on.
  • Long: The longer the strands are, the more difficult it will be for people and pets to walk on.

Features to Look For

  • UV-Stabilized: Over time, the sun can fade the color of the grass.
  • Urethane Backing: The backing of the grass will determine how easily moisture drains through to prevent bacteria. It also affects the durability of the grass.
  • Non-Absorbent Fiber: Choose a product that won’t absorb odors or moisture.
  • Heat-Resistant: As we’ve mentioned before, extreme temperatures can break down the grass quicker.
  • Non-Flammable: If people are going to grill on the grass, it’s best to play it safe and choose a fire-resistant material.
  • Varied Color Blades: Various shades of green will give the grass a more natural look.
  • Perforation: Perforations in the backing will allow moisture to drain through easier, preventing puddles.
  • Non-Staining: You worry enough about the carpet inside the house, you shouldn’t have to worry about spilling wine on your grass too.

If you’re in the market for synthetic grass, Kern Turf Supply in Bakersfield has a variety of options and will install the product perfectly in your yard, golf course, or football field. Get in touch with our landscaping team today to learn more!

Real Turf / Fake Turf / No Turf

It’s time to talk turf… we’ve had a bit of rain, the soil is warming up, and loads of people are starting to think about sowing seed, rolling out grass, and spending the rest of their spare time mowing and maintaining their great green sea!

Over the last couple of years there has been a significant shift in the lawn and order of grass, both here in Australia and overseas. Homeowners are seriously shifting from turf to fake grass! That’s right… fake grass (or synthetic turf as the manufacturers prefer you to call it)! Let me just point out right now that the fake turf we all grew up mocking and loathing has come an incredibly long way and actually looks pretty darn good these days.

So, what’s the story? Is fake grass better than real grass for the environment? Some very well known and well respected gardeners say “Yes”, while others disagree. So, to further explore these turf wars, a not so well known and occasionally respected gardener has done a bit of research, watched the grass grow, and presents you with the good, bad, and everything in between regarding real vs. fake.

Revealing the Real Stuff

The concept of the lawn originated in England, in the late 1600’s to early 1700’s, and was regarded as a “status symbol”, due to the extremely labour intensive processes involved in the maintenance of a nicely clipped lawn (remember, this was well before the invention of mowing machines in the 1830’s). Huge areas of lawn were developed for recreation, play, and as a “green sea”, effectively creating a cooling affect in many landscapes. As European settlers made their homes in Australia, they bought many of their English style gardening practices with them, including the good old lawn.

This created some significant problems. Firstly, maintenance of a lush green lawn in Australia required massive amounts of water. You see, in temperate England, where lawn originated, the annual rainfall was more than sufficient to support and maintain healthy lawns. In an aridity prone continent like Australia, just keeping lawns alive required larger, often environmentally invasive water supply systems. The other issue facing our first turf masters was the usage of exotic grasses in a harsh and unforgiving climate. Some of these species failed, but some (such as kikuyu) flourished, to the point they are now considered weedy.

Faking It

Unlike the real stuff, fake grass was developed in the 1950’s, with the patent for Astro Turf, the original fake grass awarded to Monsanto in 1967. Astro Turf was originally designed as a sports field surface, but, as any older hockey player will remember, this surface was hard, scratchy, and did more harm than good (especially to players ankles, knees and ACL’s). But, like all things, there has been a revolution, and the current synthetic turfs are incredibly realistic, look fantastic and feel great underfoot.

So, fake grass must be green? Sure, synthetic turf installations use less water than a traditional lawn, they don’t require pest and disease management (therefore reducing harmful chemical inputs) and they don’t need mowing (saving time, money and emissions). But don’t get too eco-excited just yet! Synthetic turfs are a petro-chemical product, meaning they are pumping out the black balloons at time of manufacture. Modern synthetic turf, especially when used as a playing surface, is in-filled with rubber granules made from recycled tyres (seems sustainable….but is it?) as this helps reduce joint injury during play. American research has shown us that these tyres have the ability to release a whole host of “volatile organic hydrocarbons” (fairly bad stuff), as well as other toxic chemicals. While obviously being fairly bad for human health, consider the long term impact of these products leaching into soil and groundwater! Horrifying!

Turf Wars – Comparing the Two

Okay, so what we really want to know is…which one is better for the environment? Loads of eco-aware homeowners are being told that fake is the new green, while traditionalists feel that real is the eco deal. Both products have their advantages and disadvantages (environmental, social, financial and otherwise), and, to be honest, I am loathe to recommend one over the other in terms of sustainability and environmental impact. Instead I will leave it to you, dear reader, to make up your own mind.

Fake Turf – Advantages

  • It’s always green (unless of course you buy a cheap and nasty version that fades….don’t laugh, I’ve seen it!).
  • Less chemical and physical inputs over time (remember low maintenance doesn’t mean NO maintenance). This is an extremely appealing environmental outcome.
  • Low water requirements (again, low doesn’t mean no). Many synthetic turf manufacturers recommend applying water to the surface, to prevent soil underneath from cracking, and to cool the surface.
  • Suitable for “difficult” installations (e.g.: low to no soil, pool surrounds, rooftop areas, low to no natural light etc.)
  • Good quality synthetic turf should last a minimum of ten years, with some lasting up to 35!
  • Good quality synthetic turf may actually save you money over its lifespan…..so while installation is expensive, you are saving on pesticides, herbicides, mowers, brush cutters and their petrol (not to mention getting your weekends back!).
  • Can be incredibly aesthetically pleasing, and allows greater design and installation flexibility than real turf.
  • Excellent “dust prevention”… a covered surface is always better than a dust bowl

Fake Turf – Disadvantages

    • Depending on the installation process, the rubber bedding they use as infill can contain heavy metals and VOC’s, which is nightmare stuff for soil and groundwater health.
    • It is recommended that all soil be heavily compacted before installing synthetic turf. Goodbye soil structure, soil microbes and soil life… and good luck to any tree roots in the vicinity!
    • The porosity and permeability of some synthetic turf is fairly woeful… again not allowing a lot of moisture through to the soil.
    • Being a petrochemical product, the manufacturing process is less than ideal for the environment.
    • Fake turf does nothing to capture atmospheric carbon….in fact there was an American study that suggested it may be contributing to it, due to the high amount of heat fake turf gives off.
    • It needs to be cleaned… with disinfectant! Why won’t anyone consider the soil?
    • It does nothing to enhance backyard bio-diversity
    • It has been associated with high incidence of sports injury, especially strain type injury and a phenomenon known as “turf toe” to it’s lack of give
  • It’s darned expensive!
  • What happens to it when it has passed it useful life… it ain’t designed to break down quickly, meaning a long stay in landfill!

Real Turf – Advantages

  • Real grass sequesters carbon… hooray!! Australian lawns and playing fields can absorb a massive amount of CO2 every year… what a top carbon sink!
  • Real turf produces oxygen… 58 square metres of lawn provide enough oxygen for one person for an entire day.
  • Lawns modify temperature around buildings, and in our urban spaces. On a block of eight average houses, front lawns have the cooling effect of 70 tonnes of air conditioning.
  • Excellent “dust prevention”… a covered surface is always better than a dust bowl
  • Real turf can trap an estimated 12 million tons of dust and dirt released annually into the atmosphere.
  • Houses surrounded by turf are less likely to be affected by bushfire, as the turf retards the spread of fire.
  • Real turf reduces run-off, helping to filter the water before it recharges the groundwater
  • It’s attractive… well, it can be.. and kids and pets are more likely to roll about on a patch of real lawn.
  • Healthy grass provides a feeding ground for birds, who find it a rich source of insects, worms, and other food.
  • Unlike fake grass, real grass does not have a negative impact on soil health.
  • Lawns can actually survive on very little water

Real Turf – Disdvantages

  • Most lawns are composed of a single species of plant, creating a monoculture which significantly reduces biodiversity, especially if the lawn covers a large area.
  • Monocultures lead to an increase in pest and disease issues, requiring the use of pesticides and herbicides, many of these having significant negative environmental impacts.
  • Many people overwater their lawns, believing they need a lot of water. This leads to shallow rooting grass, which dries out rapidly in summer, prompting people to dump more water on their lawn. Overwatering also leads to significant fungal problems and pest issues, encouraging the use of horticultural chemicals.
  • Water restrictions prevent us from watering turf at all….this is not a good scenario for an introduced grass species.
  • Most of our lawns are composed of turf species not local to our area (or even our country), further decreasing local biodiversity, and adding to weed problems in our remnant bushland (I’m looking at you Kikuyu)
  • The greening of turf in our urban spaces generally requires considerable use of fertilisers which, as we know, have contributed to the degradation of much of our countries soil and water catchments (think algal blooms in our precious waterways). Studies have shown that up to 60% of synthetic, nitrogen based fertiliser applied to lawns ends up in our waterways!
  • An American study found that over 3 million tons of synthetic lawn fertiliser was dumped on lawns in the US of A. While it won’t be this high in Australia, its still heaps!
  • Mowing is a pain, for you and the environment. One hour of mowing is the pollution equivalent of driving a car for 150km. Mower noise is offensive, and mowing is time consuming. On the flip side, it’s good exercise!
  • Pesticide and fertiliser use is significant, and can have some seriously negative environmental impacts further down the line.

There are many more environmentally sound, lower maintenance options available than the traditional lawn or the synthetic stuff. Please consider some of these ‘greener’ alternatives when planning your open space. Not only will you be helping the environment, you will have more time to kick back in your banana lounge and read a good book. the sustainable solution!

Turf Wars: Pros and Cons of Artificial Turf

Artificial turf, usually constructed of polyethylene plastic grass and an in-fill base of “crumb rubber” from ground-up recycled tires (as many as 10,000 in a single field) have become increasingly popular in communities all across the country.

As more grass fields are converted to synthetic turf (according to a spokesperson for the Synthetic Turf Council in Atlanta about 900 new synthetic turf fields were installed at schools nationwide in 2008), however, a debate has been heating up about possible health risks and the advantages and disadvantages of artificial turf fields.

The following is a summary of the pros and cons of artificial turf:

Pros

  • Lower maintenance costs. While the initial cost (around $600K) is high, proponents claim that upkeep is much less expensive, dropping by some estimates from $35K to $5K per year. Some question whether artificial turf is as financially friendly as touted, citing the need for repairs, vacuuming, refilling and even watering, suggesting that the fields may not last as long as advertised, and raising the thorny problem of disposal.
  • Pesticide-free. Unlike natural grass, artificial turf doesn’t require treatment with pesticides and fertilizers (note, however, the success some towns are having with organic grass fields).
  • Increased playability. Artificial turf fields are much more durable than grass; because playability is much higher, they allow broader access; can be played on all the time; in time of scarce fields, they give youth sports organizations practice space they might otherwise not have; the problem of spring and fall rains which result in cancellation of numerous games and practices slated for grass fields is eliminated; one match on a muddy field can ruin the field for the rest of the season.
  • Fewer injuries: Durability and an even playing surface mean fewer injuries and unlike grass that gets torn up by rough play and eventually turns into vast patches of slippery mud (twisted ankles from potholes, uneven playing surface, slips in the mud).
  • Saves water. An average grass playing field uses about 50,000 gallons of water per week during the growing season.”

Cons

  • Heat hazard. The heat-absorbing properties of an artificial field make it too hot to play on in extremely warm weather. On a 98-degree day, the temperature on the turf could rise to more than 120 degrees. A Brigham Young University study found that the surface temperature of synthetic turf at its football practice field was 37 degrees higher than the air temperature. Proponents point out that use of the fields can be managed to ensure that athletes aren’t playing at the hottest times of the day and are adequately hydrated; as a result, they argue, the higher temperature is more of a comfort issue than safety issue.
  • Lead. Excessive exposure to lead has been linked to severe mental retardation, stunted growth and death. As Don Mays, senior director of product safety at the Consumer’s Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, says, “There is no safe level of lead; let’s be clear on that.” The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees, saying that there is no safe level of lead exposure and suggesting that levels in soil be no higher than trace amounts (40 parts per million).
    • Older turf fields made from nylon or nylon/polyethylene blend fibers may contain levels of lead that pose a potential public health concern. Tests of artificial turf fields made with only polyethylene fibers showed that these fields contained very low levels of lead.
    • Field Turf, the largest artificial turf manufacturer in North America, sells a lead-free artificial turf, but only if the community asks for the custom-made field. The fields that most communities purchase use lead to brighten the field’s colors and for a sport team logo.
    • Says Jackie Lombardo, a member of the Sierra Club National Toxics Committee, “We know older turf products contain toxic chemicals associated with asthma, learning disabilities, and cancer. Saying they are safe because they don’t contain lead is like saying cigarettes are safe because they don’t contain lead. There are so many chemicals in this synthetic grass and we don’t know what the effects are going to be not only on children’s health, but also what the effects are on the ground water as well.”
    • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has consistently recommended “the elimination of all non-essential uses of lead” because of the potential health hazards they pose and has long considered lead dust one of the biggest known health hazards to children; it notes that the combination of age, weathering, exposure to sunlight and wear and tear can cause dust containing lead to be released from older or well-used fields.
  • Zinc hazard: A Connecticut-based environmental advocacy group, Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), has been sounding warnings about artificial turf fields for a number of years and found support for its contentions in a preliminary study in 2007 by researchers at the Connecticut agricultural experiment station which examined the contents of “crumb rubber” and concluded that several potentially dangerous chemical compounds could escape into the air or leach into water under certain conditions. Levels of zinc found leaching into water were inordinately high. A study by University of North Carolina found a possible link between continued exposure to zinc and cardiovascular damage.
  • Other harmful chemicals: according to EHHI, shredded rubber could contain other toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and selenium.
  • Toxic run-off. When an artificial field drains after a heavy rain, the run-off (which may contain lead and infill material) could leach into and contaminate a community’s ground and drinking water.
  • Increased MRSA risk. Open skin lesions (so-called “turf burns”) put athletes at increased risk of MRSA. Studies have shown that athletes who use synthetic turf are seven times more likely to receive turf burns than those who play on natural grass. These open lesions are often the source of contracting and vehicle for spreading dangerous infections. In fact, a 2003 study of MRSA infections among St. Louis Rams football players found that all eight MRSA infections began at turf burn sites.
  • Bacterial breeding ground. Medical experts have found that staphylococci and other bacteria can survive on polyethylene plastic, the compound used to make synthetic turf blades, for more than 90 days. Blood, sweat, skin cells and other materials can remain on the synthetic turf because the fields are not washed or cleaned.
  • Adverse affect on asthmatics. Breathing in dust of ground-up tires could exacerbate breathing problems for asthmatics.
  • Once artificial, always artificial. Once a community goes with artificial turf, it has no choice but to install another artificial turf field when the first one needs to be replaced because once plastic replaces natural grass, it kills any living organism in the subsoil making it impossible without years of soil remediation to grow anything on that surface.

Pros & Cons of Artificial Grass

  • Can be used regardless of the weather at the time. For example, in sport the weather will not delay players from using the turf.
  • In the heat, Artificial Grass won’t die or become dehydrated like natural grass.
  • Artificial Grass offers the customer a wide variety of colour and design which allows it to be more personalised for the customer.
  • Artificial Grass when installed correctly will have good drainage when it rains and in many cases, will dry quicker compared to natural grass.

Many people believe that a natural lawn will be more green and environmentally friendly to maintain. However, this might not always be the case. “In 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found that an hour of petrol powered lawn mowing produces as much pollution as four hours of driving a car”. Source: NationalGeographic.com

Cons

There are some cons with the use of Artificial Grass and these may put of many customers who instead would prefer natural grass.

  • The production of Artificial Grass in some cases could be bad for the environment and cause pollution or waste. This will depend on the production methods a business uses. All our productions facilities use modern energy efficient machinery. The artificial grass is tufted on Cobble Tufting Machines which are produced in the United Kingdom, using yarn produced from world leading yarn producers and many produced in-house to ensure quality and environmental compliance. We conduct regular site inspections to ensure compliance along with the facilities in China being FIFA approved and rigorously inspected.

Artificial Grass – Seriously?

Mention artificial grass to anyone and AstroTurf will spring to mind. The two have become synonymous, despite the fact that AstroTurf is a brand name, originally of the Monsanto product produced for the Astrodome in the 1960s. The various types of artificial turf available today have come a long way from the first generation products that were used pretty well exclusively for sports applications. Increasingly artificial grass is used for residential lawns, which many rave about, while others detest.
After an exceptionally wet winter of mild temperatures that have encouraged the grass to keep growing, you may be faced with a muddy patch of straggly sward, with little hope of kicking it into shape before spring. If you have a relatively small lawn, a busy lifestyle, young children champing at the bit to get outside, or a dog that keeps trailing mud into the house, the temptation to go for fake grass must be great.
On the positive side artificial grasses now offer a variety of choices that can look remarkably natural. No longer are they that bright, shiny, emerald green, reminiscent of the grass matting in a greengrocer’s window display. You can dispose of your mower, you don’t need to worry about moss, weeds, bare patches, scarifying or aerating. Your lawn won’t go brown in summer, and won’t turn into a mass of mud and mushy grass in winter. You can use it pretty well regardless of the weather.
On the down side it does need to be installed properly, and first and foremost it needs to look natural and appropriate in the setting. I stayed in a guest house recently, with a fabulous mature cedar tree in the garden. The owner had replaced the failing grass with artificial turf and was thrilled with the results. I smiled. Yes it was green, and pretty perfect, but when was the last time you saw perfect grass growing under a cedar tree, even up between the roots? To me it looked out of place and quite ridiculous, more like something out of a child’s picture book.
One of the aspects that makes artificial grass look all the more fake is lack of planting around it. In some gardens the entire picture consists of a fence and fake grass. Surround it with some decent planting, even if it’s tough and basic, and it would look so much more realistic. In my experience it’s is also often laid and fitted in an unrealistic way. You just don’t get perfect grass growing in awkward corners. It certainly can’t be cut to the immaculate finish that artificial grass constantly presents.
Artificial grass is not maintenance free. It needs sweeping, cleaning and periodic disinfection because pathogens are not broken down by natural processes. There are some concerns over friction injury on artificial grass surfaces, which can be more abrasive than natural grass. There have also been claims of links with cancer, in some cases linked to the infill materials used.
Is it environmentally friendly? It requires no irrigation. However, dependent on what it’s laid on, it may present a less permeable surface causing run off. Of course it has no atmospheric benefit and is not biodegradable. At some point it will need replacing. I suppose it is no different from putting down a carpet outside. For those that are looking at their outside space as an outdoor play space for children or pets it is a practical option.
In the context of a garden, personally I would never use it. In a small garden I would rather get rid of the grass and go for gravel with planting. Using creeping thymes, sedum, acaena, saxifrage, iberis and a host of other colourful, prostrate plants I can have a colourful tapestry which changes with the seasons, is permeable and at one with the environment. Still no mower, and probably about the same amount of maintenance as artificial grass. But then I don’t need it as an outside play space.
So what do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down for artificial lawns. I would love your opinions.

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