Fields of Waste: From scrap tyres to artificial turf as a recycling fix and back to the landfill?


Fields of Waste: Artificial Turf, Touted as Recycling Fix for Millions of Scrap Tires, Becomes Mounting Disposal Mess

By Marjie Lundstrom and Eli Wolfe 

Presented for discussion by Peter Petterson:

Rolls of synthetic turf removed from a Bethesda, Maryland, elementary school were awaiting disposal (Photo by Amanda Farber).

Nearly three decades ago, the federal government issued a somber warning.

America’s scrap tires had to go somewhere without gobbling up landfill space. Billions of cast-off tires already had accumulated in ugly stockpiles and millions more were  “scattered in ravines, deserts, woods, and empty lots,” sparking toxic fires that burned for months, the Environmental Protection Agency declared in a 1991 report.

“As costs or difficulties of legal disposal increase, illegal dumping may increase,” the agency said.

But there was hope of a solution, and the EPA was all in. In the ensuing years, agency officials – along with their counterparts in many states – promoted the recycling of scrap tires. Among the most popular options: Grinding up the rubber and using it to make artificial turf, creating a dynamic industry geared toward delivering perfectly green, cushiony, year-round fields for schools, parks and sports teams.

Fast forward to today, when America – which has experienced a coast-to-coast explosion in the installation of thousands of synthetic turf fields, many made with tire crumb – is facing the same dilemma as in 1991: What to do now with old, worn-out athletic fields – many of them reaching the end of their life spans?

Where do the millions of square feet of synthetic turf go to die?

The answer: The same place scrap tires went before – to landfills, to rural and urban stockpiles and “scattered in ravines, deserts, woods, and empty lots,” according to a FairWarning investigation.Want more stories like this? Sign up here to get news alerts.

Despite frequent claims by turf manufacturers that synthetic turf fields are recyclable and environmentally friendly, FairWarning found that worn-out playing fields and playgrounds have limited second lives. Essentially, synthetic turf is a carpet of plastic grass-like blades interspersed with sand and pulverized tires, or other infill materials, to give the field stability and shock absorbency.

But the technology to recycle this complex product – separating the plastic grass and backing from the sand and rubber infill – still isn’t fully developed in the United States, or is deemed too expensive, according to one industry report and interviews with turf experts.

Disposal rules lacking

FairWarning found no state or federal regulations specific to disposal of artificial turf, apart from general waste management rules. The industry has publicly stated that the disposal burden lies with field owners, who often seek direction from turf vendors or consultants.

Two piles of used artificial turf were stockpiled in the Netherlands countryside (Photo by Dennis Andersen).

Meanwhile, a niche industry has emerged to reclaim some of the nation’s old turf and sell custom pieces to homeowners for landscaping, batting cages and dog kennels. But the end result is the same: eventually, the stuff is bound for the dumpster.

The fire threat, lamented by the EPA in its 1991 scrap tire report, also is creeping back in the age of artificial turf as blazes break out where rolls of discarded playing fields are stashed.

“The government had this problem, and they were looking for a solution,” said Amanda Farber, a Maryland activist and mother who has raised alarms about potential health risks of artificial turf. “They call this recycling; I would just call it a waste detour.

Read a great deal more below:

Published by peter petterson

Father of four, grandfather of thirteen, and great-grandfather of eight. Resides in Taita, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand. Living happily in retirement and enjoying the company of my many young descendants.

3 thoughts on “Fields of Waste: From scrap tyres to artificial turf as a recycling fix and back to the landfill?

  1. Good comments Janet. People should be able to make commonsense decisions as to how it affects them. An artificial turf was laid a few years back at our local sports centre jointly used by rugby and soccer. If it starts to wear out in 15 or so years, the local council will have to decide how to replace it.


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