Is Artificial Grass Recyclable?
We first started seeing artificial grass used in institutional and residential settings decades ago, which was long before folks were particularly concerned about things like recycling. While it could have been possible for synthetic turf to be recycled back then, recycling just was not really a thing yet. Therefore, as folks were throwing away soda bottles and food cans, they just did not give much thought to the idea of recycling everyday items, and certainly not to recycling their front lawns.
Of course, we all know how much that has changed and just how much recycling has become a part of our lives. Along with an increasing interest in renewable resources, recyclable goods, and sustainability, folks are looking for ways to conserve water – particularly in drought-ridden Southern California. This has led to an increase in interest in synthetic turf and, as would be expected in our greener-minded culture, these same folks are also more concerned about the ability to recycle artificial grass.
Even after recycling other items became a way of life, synthetic turf was still not being recycled, which is likely where so many folks got the idea that it is not recyclable. This meant that synthetic turf, whether used on sports fields or in residential applications, almost always ended up in a landfill at the end of its useful life. However, this no longer has to be the case and there are other options that have now make manufactured grass an even better choice for eco-minded folks.
What is the Lifespan of Artificial Grass?
The life expectancy of an artificial lawn in a residential setting can be up to 20 years or even a bit longer with proper installation and regular maintenance. However, the lifespan of a turf field used for sports is about 10 years, which makes fake grass used in these applications more of a threat to overflowing landfills. Therefore, finding ways to recycle or reclaim fake grass used on sports fields is an important part of keeping artificial grass an eco-friendly option.
Can Artificial Grass Be Recycled?
Yes, artificial grass can be recycled. The plastics used in manufactured grass can be recycled. The part that can make artificial grass more difficult to recycle is that the infill that helps make your grass comfortable to walk and play on needs to be separated from the other materials before any of it can be recycled. Once separated, the plastics can be transformed back into plastic pellets for use in the manufacture of a wide variety of plastic products. The infill, too, can be cleaned and repurposed once it has been separated from the other materials.
Due to the challenges of separating the materials for recycling and the lack of recycling facilities in many parts of the world, it is often less expensive to just take synthetic turf to the landfill, and it is certainly the simpler option. Therefore, lots of folks are still using this disposal method, even though there are other options.
Specialized equipment designed to separate the materials to make artificial grass components recyclable has been available for more than a decade, and some athletic field turf started being recycled around 2010. Technological advances have improved this equipment significantly, which has made the process of separating materials for recycled artificial turf much easier. However, this equipment is expensive and there is a limited number of companies providing this service.
This means that some areas of the world do not have access to an artificial grass recycling facility. Because of this, the practice of recycling synthetic grass is not as widespread as it could be. However, we can expect this to change as technology continues to advance, such as the move towards making more artificial grass products that are designed for easier recycling.
So, the bottom line is that it is possible to recycle fake grass, but it is not happening at the level it could be. This can be a bit confusing, because there is a lot of information about recycled artificial grass online. A quick search will bring up several companies selling recycled turf, which might make it seem like turf is being recycled in much larger amounts.
This is really just a misuse of the phrase “recycled,” which refers to the manufacture of new products using waste materials. While this is happening with artificial turf, that is not really what is happening with the turf being sold by used turf resellers. These folks are also providing an eco-minded service that extends the useful life of synthetic turf, but they are doing it through repurposing or reusing the grass – not actually recycling it.
How Is Artificial Grass Repurposed?
Manufactured lawns used in residential settings are more likely to stay in place until the end of their useful life, which can be up to about 20 years; however, synthetic turf sports fields that experience heavy use are generally only in use for their original purpose for about 10 years.
According to the Synthetic Turf Council, a typical sports field has about 80,000 square feet of artificial turf and about 400,000 pounds of infill. This is a lot of turf to send to a landfill at the end of its useful life as an athletic surface – enough to fill 15 to 20 30-yard dumpsters (Synthetic Turf Council, Removal, Recovery, Reuse and Recycling of Synthetic Turf and Its System Components). Therefore, this is where the real issue is: Just one field can produce this amount of waste every 10 years.
After a decade of use, it may be time to replace the pitch with new manufactured field turf, but the grass being removed may still be usable in other applications. Therefore, while it could be recycled at this point, it may be a better option to first repurpose the turf elsewhere, and then recycle it once it has truly reached the end of its useful life.
Here are six ways and places artificial grass can be reused as a ground cover:
- Batting cages
- Animal shelters
- Erosion control installations
- Dog parks
- Driving ranges
The crumb rubber infill that is often used in sports fields can be recycled to make a wide variety of products, but it, too, can be reused in other applications before it is recycled. For example, it can be reused as infill for artificial turf, on roads, and for a variety of construction and industrial purposes.
Another way fake grass infill can be reused is to incinerate it to produce energy. While it is great to be able to reuse materials in energy production, this process also produces pollution and is generally not the best way to repurpose artificial turf components. It is worth mentioning because it is a method of disposal being used, but other options should be explored first.
Some folks purchase recycled artificial turf for use in their yards, such as for lawns or walkways. Installing reclaimed grass requires the same process as installing new grass, and both new and used grass requires the same maintenance. Because most repurposed artificial grass is reclaimed from sports fields, it is quite common for it to have painted stripes, numbers, or other markings from its previous use. These will need to be painted to try to hide the white markings if it is now being used in a residential setting.
Should I Recycle My Artificial Grass?
At some point, you may want to remove some or all of your manufactured lawn. When this time comes, look for recycling options in your area. For most folks, environmental concerns were part of the reason they installed fake grass in the first place. Their artificial grass lawns allow them to save water and to avoid adding chemical-laden pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides to the groundwater and storm drains.
If these benefits are part of the reason you installed manufactured grass, then it makes sense that you will want to continue this environmental stewardship by recycling artificial grass when you are finished with it. If recycling is not available in your area or your grass still has some good years left in it, consider repurposing the lawn to extend its life in its current form, after which it can then be recycled.