BASF Releases Comparison of Turf, Natural Grass

BASF, a chemical company, has released the results of an exhaustive study aimed at comparing the environmental and economic impact of synthetic turf fields in comparison to natural grass fields.

This study is a first-of-its-kind Eco-Efficiency Analysis conducted over 18 months and was completed in August. The study was verified by NSF International, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, which is a standards development, product certification, education, and risk-management for public health and safety company.

The BASF Eco-Efficiency Analysis (EEA) measured life cycle environmental impacts and life cycle costs for AstroTurf® systems and natural grass sports fields. The study evaluated the environmental impact of the production, use, and disposal of each system in the areas of energy and resource consumption, emissions, toxicity and risk potential, and land use. The EEA also evaluated the life cycle costs by calculating costs related to materials, labor, manufacturing, waste disposal, and energy.

“Eco-efficiency analysis is a comprehensive and quantitative tool that effectively takes a large amount of environmental and cost data and presents it in a way that supports strategic decision making and facilitates clear communication of complex information,” said Bruce Uhlman, senior sustainability specialist with BASF. “This analysis will support transparency and informed, science-based decision making between alternatives for athletic fields.”

BASF’s eco-efficiency analysis is based on the ISO 14040 standard for life cycle analysis, which quantifies the sustainability of products or processes. It is a comprehensive comparison of two or more products analyzed from the end-use perspective. The tool was developed in 1996 and, to date, more than 400 eco-efficiency studies have been completed globally for customers, suppliers, and regulatory agencies.

The report compared natural grass playing surfaces to synthetic playing surfaces manufactured by AstroTurf®, including a nylon synthetic turf field (PureGrass®), a polyethylene synthetic turf field (GameDay Grass™ MT 41), and a hybrid blend nylon/polyethylene synthetic turf field (GameDay Grass™ 3D52). The GameDay Grass™ MT41 field was a system representative of the most common field installed in the U.S. over the past decade.

While the study found that synthetic surfaces offer several advantages over natural grass, Uhlman emphasized the stringent criteria and methodology of the study (verified under NSF Protocol P52, Part B: Verification of Eco-Efficiency Analysis Studies).

The environmental burden was measured from 11 categories, some of which included primary energy consumption, raw material consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, ozone depletion potential, and risk potential.

Economic metrics for the study included the real costs of creating and delivering the finished product, future costs, and costs having an ecological aspect.

“We are proud to be at associated with this research,” said Bryan Peeples, president of AstroTurf®. “A study of this magnitude has been needed since AstroTurf® created the industry in 1964. On behalf of AstroTurf®, and our industry as a whole, we are grateful that BASF had the foresight and commitment to conduct a study with a more balanced, less biased approach. These numbers are substantiated by rigorous assessment and will help eliminate some of the ‘greenwashing’ in the marketplace.”

Among the major findings of the study were the average life cycle costs over 20 years of a natural grass field are 15 percent higher than the synthetic AstroTurf® alternatives, even when factoring in a replacement synthetic turf field during that time.

As for environmental impact, AstroTurf® fields compared similarly to natural grass fields capable of only half the availability per year.

Moreover, in terms of consumption of raw materials, even the best natural grass alternatives use about twice the amount of resources as AstroTurf® fields.

The EEA found that overall air emissions in the categories of acidification, photochemical ozone creation potential, ozone depletion, and greenhouse gasses, were fewer in AstroTurf® surfaces than in natural grass fields which supported less than 300 hours (100 events) per year of events.

Synthetic turf fields such as those produced by AstroTurf® generate the least amount of solid waste overall, with grass fields sometimes accounting for over four times as much. Land use impact was significantly less with AstroTurf® fields.

In terms of risk potential, synthetic fields displayed a higher overall potential for risk, but BASF emphasizes that this category is an exceptionally complex, multi-component measure that requires closer examination of the full analysis.

Toxicity potential shows that natural grass fields that support less than 400 hours (130 events) per year can have a higher human health impact than any of the AstroTurf® fields.

Ultimately, the study clearly shows that synthetic turf alternatives, even factoring in a replacement field, have significantly reduced environmental impact and life cycle costs compared to natural grass fields over a 20-year period, the company said.

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