Plastic is Not Fantastic
In a nutshell:
- replacing biological organisms with plastic in our environment is aesthetically, ecologically, and morally disturbing in an array of ways
- plastic leaches toxins in landfills
- plastics contain toxins
- plastic turf adds to urban heat island effect
- plastic turf is NOT permeable nor does it retain water on site
- plastic turf needs to be watered to cool it down
- plastic turf is more harmful to players
- plastic ends up in the ocean even when we don't intend it to
- plastic turf creates no habitat and provides no ecosystem services
Artificial Turf: What It Is, Its Harmful Impacts, And The Watershed Approach
Why Artificial Turf is Not the Answer
Why Artificial Turf is Not Rebated in Santa Monica
Microplastics in the Marine Environment
Andrady (2011) describes microplastics as "barely visible" to the human eye. He describes sources of microplastics in the marine environment as "(a) direct introduction with runoff and (b) weathering breakdown of meso- and macroplastics debris." A combination of these mechanisms would be relevant to artificial turf. He also describes the mechanisms of photodegradation, the process by which plastics, exposed to the sun, break down into microparticles. He documents and shows photos of micro-cracking/weathering of different plastics due to incoming solar radiation. While artificial turf contains UV protectant, so do other manufactured plastics. This slows down the process, but does not halt it. (Even artificial turf companies admit to a limited lifespan for plastic turf; this is due to degradation). He discusses how the following properties provide the necessary conditions for this breakdown of plastics: direct sunlight, dry conditions, and high temperatures. As we know, these all pertain to artificial turf.
Plastics in the marine environment: the dark side of a modern gift.
Hammer el al. (2012) describe the dangers and scope of the problem of microplastics in the marine environment. This is just one of many studies describing the pathway of plastic particles absorbing persistent organic pollutants, being ingested by small organisms in the marine environment, toxins leaching out of the particles and into the organism, and then moving up the food chain to larger fish. One of their conclusions is that " alternatives to current plastic products must be found." That alternative to plastic turf already exists: California Friendly Landscapes with drought tolerant / CA native plants.
Therefore, unless there is peer-reviewed research to support the opposite (which I could not find), current findings tell us that the plastics of which artificial turf is constructed over time degrade into microplastics that will find their way into the environment via urban runoff pathways. I myself have seen visible plastic fragments on my body after visiting the new Playa Vista park, which contains artificial turf. I therefore have no doubts whatsoever as to the impacts of installing plastic turf in the environment. However, as described above, even if there are no visible fragments, micron sized (non visible) particles could be degrading off of these turfs into the environment. Finally, the negative environmental impacts of plastics in landfills are well documented.
Research by Alison J. Lipman, Ph.D. Ecology
Lecturer / Dept. of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Senior Research Fellow / Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
University of California Los Angeles