Saturday, April 2, 2011

#92 / Artificial Turf

My local newspaper is reporting that the Middle School located in my neighborhood will soon remove several acres of grass and replace the grass with artificial turf. Operational improvements are expected.

The Wikipedia article on artificial turf has a list of both "advantages" and "disadvantages." Operational issues are those discussed:


  • Artificial turf can be a better solution when the environment is particularly hostile to natural grass. An arid environment or one where there is little natural light are examples.
  • Artificial turf can withstand significantly more use than natural grass and can therefore be used much more frequently. This allows sports ground owners to generate more income from their facilities.
  • Ideal for holiday homes when maintenance of lawns is not practical. It is also a solution for elderly home-owners who find the upkeep of lawns too much hard work.
  • Suitable for roof gardens and swimming pool surrounds.
  • Some artificial turf systems allow for the integration of fiber-optic fibers into the turf. This would allow for lighting or advertisements to be directly embedded in a playing surface, or runway lighting to be embedded in artificial landing surfaces for aircraft.


  • Some artificial turf requires infill such as silicon sand and/or granulated rubber made from recycled car tires. This material may carry heavy metals which can leach into the water table.
  • Periodic disinfection is required as pathogens are not broken down by natural processes in the same manner as natural turf. Despite this, recent studies suggest certain microbial life is less active.
  • Friction between skin and artificial turf causes abrasions and/or burns to a much greater extent than natural grass. This is an issue for some sports: for example, football in which sliding maneuvers are common and clothing does not fully cover the limbs. However, with some third-generation artificial grasses, this is almost completely eliminated by the use of polyethylene yarn.
  • Artificial turf tends to be much hotter than natural grass when exposed to the sun.
Apparently, not too many people see a decision about whether or not to replace grass with artificial turf in "philosophical," as opposed to "operational," terms. I think I may be out of the mainstream. That's the way I see it.

Human beings are ruthlessly seeking to replace the "natural" with the "artificial" in almost every arena. Now it's kids sports. Natural environments put limits on human desires. For instance, the natural terrain of a grass field becomes uneven, and gets gopher holes, as other living beings seek to share the environment with us. Artificial turf can put an end to that.

I question whether we are truly better off when we deal with the limitations of the natural world by seeking to replace the natural world with a constructed reality that meets our "operational" specifications. The other alternative, of course, is to accommodate our own activities to the limitations of Nature.

Slowly but surely, as we advance on the path of replacing Nature by our own constructions, we forget that we are dependent, ultimately, on the world of Nature, and that we are created within that world, and are creatures, ourselves, just like the gophers (and arguably a lot more destructive)!

That's a lesson we should be remembering, I think. In one small way, artificial turf represents an effort to deny that truth.


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