Synthetic grass is largely used in the sports and play industry, but it is gaining popularity as a way to ensure attractive outdoor spaces for homeowners, businesses, municipalities and government entities nationwide.  

Continuous innovations in the industry have taken the look, feel and function of synthetic grass to a new level – saving time, money and water. The South African Sports and Play Industry (SASPI) offers some key information on this growing industry. 

What is in a name? 

  • Artificial turf is commonly used for sports facilities such as tennis courts, soccer, rugby and hockey fields.  
  • Synthetic grass is most often associated with landscaping projects. 

Saving water 

Growing environmental awareness has prompted interest in synthetic grass’ ability to conserve billions of litres of water annually. Increased user requirements and intense competition have given rise to a new generation of synthetic turf systems that replicate the look and playability of natural, lush grass.  

Low maintenance 

Natural grass requires the regular use of chemicals to feed and weed it – watering cutting, decompaction and sand dressing, plus koroing (the removal of vegetation from the surface of a sports pitch) every year when being renovated. 

Conversely, artificial turf only requires regular grooming, and an annual decompaction and top-up of infill. When compared to natural grass, these activities are less costly and labour intensive, providing a low-maintenance alternative. 

Recycling turf 

South Africa currently produces “mixed”-polymer artificial turf, which is difficult to recycle, but not impossible as there is a number of European recyclers who have set up plants to deal with mixed-polymer turf. In the future it will be possible to obtain artificial turf with a single-polymer source. This will make recycling much easier and the possibility of extracting higher value from the recycled component better than is currently feasible. 

Can turf be reused? 

Mixed-polymer tuft is turned into lumber for use in sports fields and play areas. The pellets can be made into boards and panels, then moulded into large planters and park benches, bins etc. These low-value products are a great way to downcycle turf back into community use.  

The rubber crumb and sand can be cleaned and placed back into sports pitches, as a valuable way of recycling these materials. 

Alternate materials 

Some overseas suppliers have products made from recycled runner and plant-based soybeans. Locally, the main organic material substitutes still comprise of plastic, which is simply made from plant-based solvents. Biodegradable products are some way off due to the need for biodegradable plastics to degrade very quickly in the environment. 

Currently artificial turf is limited to the use of organic infill materials to improve the carbon footprint of the product. 

Applications 

Sports facilities 

The low-maintenance regime for artificial turf, coupled with it being able to sustain up to 30 times more use than natural grass surfaces, allows athletes significantly more playing time. 

Stadium facilities 

Elite stadium facilities use hybrid turf, which is created by combining natural lawn grass with reinforcing synthetic fibres. It is the choice for some of the biggest football leagues in the world and provides a high-quality, safe and consistent surface for football and rugby grounds.  

Playgrounds 

Parks and playgrounds that use synthetic grass allow children to be active year-round on safe and resilient playing surfaces. With synthetic grass, there is no mildew and bacteria from wet mulch, no allergies associated with natural grasses or other potential health irritants.  

Residential 

Homeowners use synthetic grass as an attractive landscape solution that saves time, money and water. It can be particularly beneficial for owners of second homes to landscape with synthetic grass, eliminating the need for a lawn-maintenance crew, and limits the appearance of a vacant property. 

With thanks to SASPI, Belgotex Sport, Seamless Flooring Systems, Sportslabs and Turftech for the information in this editorial. 

Everything you need to know about synthetic grass, from benefits and maintenance to application and sustainability information. 

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