Artificial Turf: Impacts on Environment and Human Health

Is Artificial Turf a Viable Alternative to Grass: An Overview for Homeowners and Multi-Purpose Venues

By Ellen Rubin
Reviewed by Brett Stadelmann

We’re living in a time where we have to balance many conflicting issues: time vs. money, convenience vs. doing what’s right for our community and the environment, and aesthetics vs. safety.

All these issues are part of the complex question of whether artificial turf is good. It is big business. The 2023 market was valued at $79.9 billion and by 2032 it’s expected to be worth $141.6 billion. 

Whether turf is good for you and the planet is really a multi-faceted issue: is it good for the environment and where should it be used. This can be broken down into two separate sectors of personal and/or community landscaping and commercial use – specifically for sporting and event venues – and each has different considerations to balance. While the same basic product is used in each situation, the reasons behind it and its appropriateness differs depending on circumstances.

This article is an attempt to present a fair evaluation of whether artificial turf is good, where it may be a viable alternative to grass lawns or native landscaping, and what are the hazards inherent in the product. Special attention will be paid to environmental and health impacts at installation and end-of-life disposal.

What Exactly is Artificial Turf?

Because artificial turfs were used primarily in sporting venues at the beginning, this article will deal with how it relates to athletics first. If you are only interested in it for your home landscaping, some of this is still relevant, such as how it’s created and the materials used, but you can skip to the parts that are non-sport related if you just want an overview. 

Artificial turf is currently in its third iteration. The first artificial grass-like product was made by Chemstrand, a subsidiary of Monsanto, in the mid 1960’s. The original idea for a grass substitute that could be installed anywhere was underwritten by the Ford Foundation. Its purpose was to help many of the 1.5 million urban dwellers train for service in the Korean War. More sedentary lifestyles meant that they weren’t in top physical condition.  Insta-fields could be set up in any open location where recruits could train. 

The original artificial turf, named AstroTurf™, consisted of ¼” nylon fibers attached to a perforated pad that sat atop layers of permeable asphalt and then a layer of gravel to aid in water runoff. 

Side view of artificial turf
Side view of artificial turf
Credit: Rune Mathisen and “bitjungle” from Skien, Norway – Nytt kunstgress Uploaded by Arsenikk

The Early Days of Artificial Turf

It reached public awareness when it was installed in the newly built Houston Astrodome in 1966-67. The surface was quickly embraced by the new multi-purpose stadiums that were being built. Not only could both baseball and football be played on it without showing any wear, but it was useful for domed stadiums, those that were built at high elevations, or in dry areas because they would stay green whether or not there was adequate sunlight or temperature.

Other early adopters were the stadiums built for the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, and Minnesota Vikings. In addition to football, these stadiums could be used to host other programming like concerts because the surface could support the equipment needed to set up stages, and endure heavy foot traffic, etc. 

Due to the high number of injuries associated with AstroTurf™, a professional golfer, Frederick T. Haas Jr., developed a second generation of turf in 1976 called Omniturf. (The propensity of artificial turf-induced injury will be discussed below.) It featured longer turf fibers that were infilled between the fibers with sand. It was supposed to better mimic natural grass as well as having better drainage. It was used primarily on English soccer fields and tennis courts. It didn’t solve the injury problem so a third generation of turf was developed. This is what’s still in use today. 

Types of blades in artificial turf
Types of blades in artificial turf
Credit: The Motz Group

This turf is made from some combination of monofilament or slit-film polypropylene or polyethylene fibers with some nylon included. Slit-film fibers resemble a honeycomb pattern when stretched. The length of the fibers increased to more than 2”, backed by a polypropylene backing over 2 to 4 layers of base. The fibers are most commonly infilled with a combination of sand and recycled rubber. The composition of the infill differs between manufactures and even intended purposes. 

Chemical Composition & the 90s’ Turf Boom

The new turf was ready for the next stadium building boom of the 1990s. Most turf uses a dual fiber blend with some nylon blades included for strength and longer durability. A breakdown of material qualities are:

  • Polypropylene is the least expensive but it doesn’t maintain its shape or stand up to high heat or a lot of traffic. Aesthetically, it’s the most natural looking.
  • Polyethylene is the most durable and common material used for premium turf. It also looks and feels more natural than nylon. It holds up well to the elements. 
  • Nylon is added in small quantities for its durability and stiffness, which allows the other blades to bounce back to their original height more quickly. Early AstroTurf™ was made solely of  nylon. It is expensive and absorbs water so is not an ideal material for an entire field. Its stiffness also causes more injuries.

The backing is usually made from polypropylene or urethane and allows rainwater to drain away from the surface. A weed barrier made of a synthetic fabric is placed above a stone foundation made of compacted crushed concrete or granite placed on base rock before finally reaching the soil. 

Layering in artificial turf
Layering in artificial turf

Infill is added between the blades/filaments/tufts of turf during installation. This is almost always composed of crumb rubber from recycled tires and sand. There may also be rubber coated sand, flexible plastic pellets, thermoplastic elastomer, or possibly Nike Grind made from recycled athletic shoes.

Natural infill can be made of mineral based or plant derived materials such as cork, coconut hulls, or walnut shells. This is much less common. For a single-sport field like a football field, 20,000-40,000 tires are used to make the crumb rubber. To date, tens of millions of tires have been used as infill or on playground surfaces. The health implications are discussed below. 

The Conflict Between Proponents of Turf and of Grass

Baseball teams soon switched back to natural grass fields when they started building dedicated baseball fields.

From 1992-2005 the National League Baseball went from half the teams using artificial turf to all of them playing on natural grass. Since 2010, 5 teams have gone back to turf due to overly hot weather, domes, or high elevation which make growing grass almost impossible.

Almost half of the National Football League teams still play on artificial turf. It’s still also used on many soccer fields in the US and Europe; however many soccer associations, including FIFA and UEFA, are making the change to natural grass.

Inevitably, the turf will wear out. This is usually within 12 years of installation. There is a perpetual problem of how to dispose of it. It isn’t easily recycled.

Manufacturers and organizations like the Synthetic Turf Council like to claim that it can be repurposed as driving ranges, band practice fields, pet parks, bullpens, batting cages, or equestrian stables.

However, all the arguments that will be discussed below against using turf apply even more strongly to recycling it in these places. It’s only logical that worn plastics will lose strength and create even more microplastics and need added crumb rubber.

How Turf Changed Sports

Overview: Reasons For and Against

Stadium owners love artificial turf because it allows the venue to be used non-stop, regardless of weather conditions and, to a great extent, the weight load placed on the ground.

Grass, especially in wet conditions, can’t tolerate heavy equipment and needs the right amount of sun, water, and warmth to grow. Turf can go from football to baseball to concert without missing a beat.

Colleges and high schools can have teams rotate practice times for 18 hours a day. There won’t be significant wear marks like you would get down the center of a football field where most of the action takes place and cleats take their toll on the surface. This makes it a cost-effective choice for venue owners and institutions. 

For the athletes, turf plays differently than grass. On the positive side, it’s a smooth surface and doesn’t divot during use so there’s less likelihood of sprains from twisted joints from a bad foot-fall.

It’s a harder surface, so balls react differently. In baseball, the players learned that they could throw from the outfield, have the ball bounce once, and still run true so the targeted infielder could catch it. On grass fields you can’t be sure that the ball won’t hit a bump or divot and divert.

Balls also bounce higher on turf so infielders started playing deeper than they do on grass. The speed balls travel on turf also changed the game of field hockey so much that even the shape of the sticks had to be changed. 

University of Texas marching band at AT&T stadium
AT&T Stadium – Home of the Dallas Cowboys
University of Texas marching band during the 2009 Big 12 Championship game
Credit: Klobetime – originally posted to Flickr as Wall-to-wall band

The 20 NFL stadiums are evenly split whether they currently have turf or grass. Having turf in football stadiums makes a bit more sense than baseball because most of the season is played in late fall/winter. Freezing temperatures and domed stadiums don’t impact the look or functionality of the surface.


The price of speed and consistency of playing or practicing on turf is that injury rates are significantly higher. Many of these injuries occur because turf is a harder surface that doesn’t divot, wear, or absorb impact like grass.

The things that make it attractive to owners are the same reasons that make it a hazard for the players. Stopping on turf puts a force load on the body that is 1.5 to 2 times greater than it would be on grass. The force is returned to the body rather than being absorbed by the surface. This constant pounding puts greater wear and tear on knees, ankles, feet and the lower back.

Many athletes believe that their playing careers have been shortened by significant time spent playing on turf. 

In addition to general wear, specific injuries that are more common on turf especially for contact sports such as football, soccer, and rugby athletes are:

  • Knee injuries are among the most serious and frequent injuries associated with turf. ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) injuries occur 3 times more often on turf. 
  • The shear force and torque on the foot and lower extremities is greater on turf because it doesn’t divot and cleats don’t release as easily as they do on grass. Split filament turf is worse than monofilament turf. The injury rate is 16% greater with certain categories of injuries having more than 2 times the injury rate. 
  • Non contact injuries happen 32% more frequently.
  • Ankle injuries are more common at the rate of 1.5 vs. 0.8 injuries per 1,000 hours of play time as reported in 2007 for Major League Soccer players and achilles injuries were also twice as high, while ankle fractures occurred 6 times more frequently. 
  • Concussions were more severe for those playing on turf when the cause is player/ground contact (20% of the time), rather than player/player contact. 
  • Toe turf is a common artificial surface injury where the joint of the big toe is sprained when the force of the athlete is brought to bear repeatedly. 
  • Turf burns, caused by abrasion when sliding on the surface accounted for 19.3% of all injuries on turf, but only 0.5% of grass injuries. This is a complaint that the US Women’s National Soccer Team vehemently makes. 60% of all surveyed elite players say that turf is too abrasive. 

The injury statistics are the same whether the turf is new or old. The infill depth/weight, however, is a contributing factor to the rate of injury. Head trauma, knee, and shoulder injuries significantly increase as infill weight decreases.

Infill is a large portion of the initial cost of installing turf so venues may be tempted to skimp a bit. Even if a field was properly filled with 6 pounds per square foot of infill when it was installed, usage and time cause that amount to decrease.

Fill is kicked up and/or washed away in heavy rains, or during cleanings and routine maintenance. It requires constant monitoring in multiple spots on a regular basis to ensure the infill is maintained. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. Studies have shown that 43% of games on high school football fields were played on less than the recommended 6 pounds per square foot. 


Turf is hot. Whereas grass can absorb a great deal of heat and will actually cool the surroundings, artificial turf has a relatively much lower specific heat capacity, meaning it heats up quickly, and reflects more heat back into the surrounding environment.

This means that on a 78°F day, the surface temperature of turf will be 118°F or more; at 98° it will feel like 178°. Both of these temperatures are uncomfortable-to-unsafe for human touch. The maximum temperature recorded is 220°. 

It’s possible to lower the temperature of turf by watering it down. This is fairly self-defeating for two reasons: the brevity of its cooling effects, and water conservation. 5 minutes after watering, the surface will begin to warm, and by 30 minutes you are back to the original temperature.

One of the motivations organizations and homeowners emphasize for installing turf is that they want to conserve water, for both ecological and financial reasons. Having to water your plastic accomplishes neither.

Turf heat absorption and reflection is even greater than black asphalt. It leads to heat stroke, dehydration, and thermal burns. It’s so extreme that it’s been known to burn the foot pads of players through their shoes or even melt their cleats. 

The Environmental Impact of Artificial Turf

Regardless of whether we are talking about a football field, the patch at your driving range, or the plot of turf in your yard, the first thing to remember about artificial turf is that it’s made of petrochemicals.

This means, first and foremost, that micro- and nano-plastic particles will be created each time it’s stepped on, rinsed off, or rains. All those particles wash away and/or leach into the soil where it will be taken up in plants or flow to our groundwater and waterways where it’s used for our drinking water or will be ingested by sea life.

Toxic Components of Turf

Whether you are vegan or a carnivore, you will ultimately be eating these microplastics in every bite of your food and every drink you take. The effects of microplastic consumption is bioaccumulative. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) estimates that around 42,000 tons annually of microplastics pollute the environment.

One of the largest, if not the largest, contributors is artificial turf and the crumb rubber infill, being responsible for as much as 38% or 16,000 tons.

In addition to microplastics, other chemicals leach from artificial turf, whether from the blades themselves and especially from the crumb rubber infill.

Dangerous toxins such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, per- and polyfluoroalkoalkyl substances (PFAS, which are forever chemicals that don’t easily break down), Bisphenol A (BPAs), arsenic, mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, zinc, and VOCs and SVODs (semi-volatile organic chemicals) as tire additives, are often found.

There are at least 306 different chemical agents found in crumb rubber alone. Another area of concern is the dyes used to color the turf. Testing at indoor facilities has identified 197 chemicals known to have carcinogenic characteristics and another 207 that were detected but not identified by the EPA.

These haven’t been sufficiently researched yet so their impact on regular exposure is unknown. Not only are those using the turf exposed to these chemicals, but most of the agents will be found in the runoff that enters our waterways.

Many are known carcinogens, neurotoxicants, mutagens, and endocrine disruptors. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute just released a study that links childhood leukemia to PFAS.

Lack of Regulation and Scientific Study

Even though all these toxic chemicals are present, most Western nations haven’t regulated their use in artificial turf even when they are regulated in other types of products.

For instance, microplastics are regulated in cosmetics, but not in artificial turf. Human exposure to all of these chemicals can occur through ingestion (swallowing it), inhalation (breathing) or dermal/ocular (direct contact with skin or eyes) means. This is why it’s imperative that whenever turf is located indoors there is adequate ventilation.

Unfortunately, testing has found that this isn’t always the case. Even with adequate ventilation, the fill is still kicked up onto players’ clothing and moved from place to place. 

You can find a comprehensive list of chemicals that’ve been identified in or released from artificial turf at Health Impacts of Artificial Turf: Toxicity Studies, Challenges, and Future Directions – PMC ( 

There haven’t been many studies about the long-term effects that exposure to these chemicals causes so there is no definite answer to what sorts of damage they cause. However, in 2014, the women’s soccer coach at the University of Washington became aware that an inordinate number of former players had received cancer diagnoses. Even more telling, the goalies had the highest rate of cancer. The theory is that they had much closer contact with the turf more frequently. 

Additional Considerations

There are two other indirect indications that choosing artificial turf is not your best choice.

Most municipalities don’t allow the burning or dumping of rubber tires. You have to go to specific disposal facilities because of the forever chemicals and other toxic substances used to make them.

Furthermore, most recycling centers and landfills don’t accept rolls of turf. Instead, some users just dump it in non-regulated areas…wherever possible. Landfills and dumps don’t want it because it is not only bulky, but it shouldn’t be incinerated.

This means that the plastics, crumb rubber infill, and all their attendant chemicals, can leach into the nearby soil and groundwater. 

Turf vs. Grass for the Homeowner


One of the strongest arguments made in favor of artificial turf is that it’s lower maintenance, thereby saving people time and money. This is especially true for non-sporting purposes like homeowners, dog parks, and playgrounds.

Turf proponents argue that grass is more environmentally harmful because it requires more water to grow, regular mowing, and chemicals such as fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides that are not only expensive and time consuming, but all pollute the air, ground, and waterways. They also argue that while the up-front costs for turf are greater (product + installation), in the long-run, it will cost a homeowner less.

After all, you don’t need to purchase a mower or fertilizer.

This argument assumes that you will be growing a grass variety that isn’t well-suited to your climate. There are more options than growing Kentucky Bluegrass. (See The Environmental Cost of Grass Lawns: A Complete Guide ( or Alternatives to Grass Lawns: 3 Great Eco-Friendly Ideas ( for some ideas.)

There are all kinds of live green solutions besides grass. Turf simply replaces living ecosystems with plastics that create heat islands and wilderness deserts. 

Probably the most common and strongest maintenance argument in favor of turf is that you won’t be spending your weekends on yardwork. Instead, you can just enjoy your always-ready, maintenance-free turf. Not exactly. It isn’t actually maintenance-free.

In order to have use of your turf for the full 8 to 12-year expected life of the product it needs to be kept clean and free of debris. You may choose to get a broom, vacuum, or a leaf blower depending on the amount and type of landscaping you and your neighbors have. Debris and/or leaves that accumulate break down on your turf and become embedded in the infill. Y

ou also need to periodically (preferably weekly but definitely monthly), use a non-metal rake or brush to keep the blades of turf upright. You’re also supposed to “fluff” your infill a few times a year using special devices with rotating times or spikes. You may also want to check the depth of the infill periodically to see if you need to replenish any low spots.

If you live in a warmer climate or you don’t have a lot of shade, you may need to water your turf to cool it down before you or your pets can step on it. Regardless, you will have to periodically wash it off to remove dirt, dust, and things like bird droppings. You should also use an antibacterial agent, especially if you have pets or children. This isn’t exactly install-and-forget. 

Finally, you can’t avoid all the chemicals that you usually think about when considering your lawn. True, you don’t need fertilizer, but you may need something to remove mold, algae, moss, or weeds that start to grow, especially if you aren’t meticulous about cleaning debris and washing off any seeds that have blown into your yard.

Issues for Pet Owners

Pets pose added issues. You may think turf is the solution because you won’t get mud tracked into the house, have urine burn spots, and digging won’t be as much of a problem – just add some more crumb rubber in places your dog attempts to dig. However, you still need to pick up piles immediately after your dog goes to the bathroom and clean that area. You also have to wash areas where it urinates because sand and crumb infill retains urine odor.

A soap and water mixture in a spray bottle works for immediate relief, along with frequent hosing down to avoid smells and stains. It’s not unknown for your turf to become infested with maggots from flies laying eggs on whatever bits of feces are left after clean-up. This is another reason why you have to decontaminate your turf with chemical cleaners and regularly hose it down. 

I don’t know about your pets, but mine are always playing in the yard, picking up toys, rolling around, and generally sticking their nose to the ground to patrol their territory. This is a lot of very close contact during which infill and degraded microplastics can easily be inhaled, licked, ingested, or stuck in their paws to be later licked. I don’t want to expose my fur babies to all the toxic chemicals that come with turf.

Some turf companies try to accommodate pet owners by offering options that they say are cooler so you don’t have to continually water your turf in weather warmer than 75°F to prevent heat stroke or burnt paw pads. To cut down on odors they recommend infill materials like copper slag, silica sand, or rounded quartz and turf options that have antimicrobial properties.


Turf enthusiasts also recommend turf over grass for people and pets that have grass allergies. Insofar as this goes, it’s true. Turf isn’t a living organism so no pollen is created. However, pollen is blown on the wind so you will have to religiously wash your turf if you don’t want any pollen or dust to settle in your yard. Turf won’t completely eliminate the problem, but it may reduce it if you are assiduous about your cleaning. 

If you have a latex allergy, please avoid turf, or at least be very specific about what types of infill you are exposed to since rubber contains latex. Granted, this is only about 6% of the population, but reactions can be severe, including anaphylaxis. 

Impacts on the Local Environment

We’ve already explored the health impacts of turf in a sport setting, including exposure to toxic chemicals. There are some additional environmental and health considerations to explore when it comes to turf in your yard or your neighborhood park.

Regardless of propaganda about the environmental cost of grass vs. turf, the City of Zurich found that the per hour use of grass had the lowest footprint. Following that was artificial turf with no infill, and then turf with infill. This is probably because the infill needs to be replenished. 

The hazards of increased heat – Revisiting the issue of heat generated by artificial turf, it’s important to remember that because turf actually absorbs much more radiation than grass, ambient temperatures of 78°F will create turf temperatures of over 115°F – hot enough to burn skin and pet paws. To test whether it’s safe for your pet, hold your hand on the turf for 7 seconds. If it feels too hot for you, it’s definitely too hot for your pet.

You’ll need shade from awnings or trees to keep your turf cool unless you continually water it down. You also have to be aware of windows reflecting onto the grass. This amplifies the heat factor and can even melt the plastic. You can avoid this by adding perforated vinyl privacy window film to the outside of the windows. 

The simple reality is that overall, turf creates heat islands. Conversely, grass absorbs heat and makes the ambient temperature of your yard cooler. 

Chemical exposure – When plastics get heated, they leach Bisphenol A (BPA) which can contribute to chronic diseases including cancers, diabetes, and neurological impairments. This is in addition to the PFASs, PAHs, and metals listed above. Polyethylene emits greenhouse gasses and methane. This is one of the reasons you have to have adequate ventilation for turf in indoor spaces. 

The Effects of a Plastic Barrier

When you lay turf, you are spreading a plastic barrier between the atmosphere and soil. This has several repercussions: 

  • Probably the most significant ecological issue is that you are eliminating any sort of hospitable environment for life…insects, including pollinators, and wildlife. Burrowing insects, like solitary bees and soil dwellers like worms can’t exist without open access to soil. This contributes to the decline in biodiversity. 
  • The organisms in the soil break down germs and bacteria that turf doesn’t, so any animal droppings fester. You need to wash down your turf regularly. 
  • Putting your turf too close to trees or shrubs will kill them. Not only does it block the flow of water and oxygen to tree roots, but their root systems can be damaged during installation. The higher heat from turf also encourages the growth of harmful pathogens and fungi that can attach to the tree’s root systems.
  • Turf contributes to flooding. Hard rainfalls aren’t able to saturate soil before it becomes runoff into local creeks and streams. Instead, the rain merely washes the infill and its chemicals into our waterways. All this leads to greater erosion. 
  • Turf doesn’t sequester any carbon, it actually releases it. Regardless how little, grass does filter some pollution and emits oxygen. It may not be the best source for these, but it does contribute more than turf which, as a byproduct of oil and chemicals, merely contributes to both pollution and global warming. Simply installing turf releases carbon that has been stored in the soil. Our goal should be to reduce the effects of climate change whenever possible. 
  • I’m repeating this, but it is worth repeating: turf sheds microplastics into the air, the soil itself, our groundwater, and our waterways!


Finally, it’s important to remember that turf has a very limited life span. Not only is it more expensive to install than grass or other landscaping, but it will only last 8-12 years. Removal and disposal are not easy. This isn’t something that you can just put on your curb on garbage day. There is a Danish company that is opening a plant in Pennsylvania that will recycle synthetic turf, but this type of facility is very rare. 

Living plants, including grass, provide a habitat for beneficial microorganisms that break down debris, pollinators and other insects, birds, and all sorts of wildlife. Water absorption helps to curb erosion and flooding. Every type of plant helps cool the atmosphere, absorb CO2, and filter pollution. Lawns create a mini food web for animals.

Turf, however, is an artificial barrier that may contribute to flash flooding when water can’t easily be absorbed, off-puts unhealthy gasses, microplastics, harmful chemicals, and absorbs radiation which releases back excessive amounts of heat.

Imagine your house surrounded by asphalt – hot, black, smelly, unforgiving asphalt. Artificial turf gets hotter than asphalt, stays warmer longer, and retains smells longer. By replacing your grass or climate-appropriate landscaping using natural materials with artificial turf, you are denying living organisms their food and the oxygen necessary for life with a sheet of plastic.

Turf suffocates any living thing below it and contributes to greenhouse gasses, microplastics, and accelerated erosion. This doesn’t seem like a fair trade-off. 

The Perfect Home for Turf

There are people who argue that turf is perfect for overly shady gardens, very high-elevation areas, those that are drought prone, or urban rooftops and balconies. Turf would be the quick and easy answer to provide something green colored, but we’ve discussed all the drawbacks: heat, toxic chemicals, and not really being maintenance-free.

With a little creativity and research, any difficult area can be turned into a green space that will benefit, rather than harm, the environment.

I tried very hard to think of a reason to install turf or a place where turf would be the optimal choice over any other surface. I realized that there is one place that I think benefits from having artificial turf – airports. It is the one place I can think of where you want to discourage any type of life. It would reduce foreign object damage from birds or anything else because you don’t have rocks or clumps of dirt.

If installed very deliberately and thoughtfully, it would drain quickly. The ever-green contrast of turf to concrete or asphalt also makes it easier to see the runways. Plus, the added ability to handle heavy weight loads, especially in wet weather, would make it a safer alternative to dirt and grass.

While chemicals and added heat are still a problem, workers aren’t generally directly on the turf. You’d still have to compensate for runoff to prevent flash flooding and perhaps even have built-in filters to limit chemical seepage into waterways, but overall, turf alongside runways makes sense. 

World Position on Turf

It’s probably obvious that there are many drawbacks to turf, yet it’s a huge market and growing. There are areas where people are encouraged, even by governmental entities, to replace their lawns with turf. The reasoning, aside from company profits, is to reduce water usage. We’ve discussed that replacing grass with turf may not result in very much water savings between cooling and washing. Yet, so many areas still promote it. 

Even though the United Nation Stockholm Convention of 2004 sets limits to control the release of persistent organic pollutants, PFAS, PFOA, and PFOSs, there hasn’t been much impact on the turf market. To date, 152 countries have signed the agreement. Below is a short summary of how the turf market is faring in some areas of the world, along with any regulations or promotions that may exist.

The United States

There is no national policy regarding crumb rubber or chemical emissions for the 13,000 turf fields in the US. Some municipalities are still giving homeowners incentives to replace grass with turf. However, there are the beginnings of a backlash and some areas now offer incentives to remove your turf, place restrictions on new turf, or even ban it as more has been learned about the hazards to people and the environment.

Manufacturers continue to develop new forms of turf to combat some of these arguments. For instance, corkonut, a combination of walnut shells and coconut husks, has been developed to replace the rubber crumb. 

  • In the sports world, the NFL Players Association has voiced concerns about turf injuries and have petitioned for a ban on all turf fields. The Women’s National Soccer team has argued vehemently for a ban on turf fields. The World Cup for men is played on grass and they want equal protection.
  • California, often the leader in environmental protections, is making an effort to ban turf containing PFAS. They have a signed bill that would allow local governments to ban the use of turf for residential use. Many cities are beginning to prohibit turf in counties such as San Mateo and San Marino. Los Angeles school districts prohibit the use of crumb rubber, requiring other infill options. 
  • Many western states encouraged non-grass landscaping beginning in the 1990’s because of water shortages. Most require the use of a minimum number of plants and won’t accept turf as a substitute. 
  • Edmonds, Washington has imposed a 30-month moratorium on the installation of artificial turf containing crumb rubber. 
  • Boston, Massachusetts banned the installation of turf in city parks in 2022. It is the largest US municipality to ban turf. 
  • Maryland doesn’t accept artificial turf for disposal; it would have to be disposed of in nearby states such as Virginia. 
  • There are a number of municipalities that are banning crumb rubber, requiring sustainable infills instead. These include: Montgomery County, Maryland, Hartford Connecticut (2016), Westport, Connecticut (2019), and all newly installed fields of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. 


The EU and European Chemicals Agency have established standards for cancer-causing chemicals and limited the allowed microplastic components of PAHs and PFAS, microplastics, and heavy metals. This affects 13,000 full-sized and 45,000 smaller turf fields among the member countries.

In 2019 they proposed sweeping restrictions on microplastics from all types of products, including turf. 

The University of Amsterdam tested crumb rubber samples and found that they all contained hazardous compounds that exceeded the set standards. In 58 of the 60 samples, carcinogenic compounds were 1.5 to 3.7 times the permissible standards allowed for consumer products. They found arsenic, benzene, carbon black, heavy metals, lead, mercury, and other carcinogens.

The Netherlands plans to phase out crumb rubber turf by 2030. Following the Netherland’s lead is Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, and Sweden regarding PFAS, PAH chemicals and microplastics. Studies in many of these countries, particularly Norway and Sweden, have found that turf with crumb rubber is the second largest source of microplastics after road wear and tire particles.

Turf is still popular in Europe for sporting venues even though there are issues about turf disposal. There are a few disposal plants on the continent that will accept it. 

United Kingdom

As in much of Europe, turf is still popular in the UK. 10% of UK households have replaced their lawns with turf. Turf sales are projected to reach £4 billion by 2027. In cities and urban areas, as much as 50% of green matter has been replaced with paved areas and turf; in front yards this rises to 80% paved space. Homeowners have seen a corresponding increase in street flooding. 

The government is considering a ban on the installation of turf for new property developments. There are no proposed regulations on microplastics or any types of chemicals unless they come into direct contact with human skin or oral cavities. The only other regulation is an advisory that there shouldn’t be direct routes for crumb rubber runoff – and even then, it only says that it should be prevented when practical. 


Australia’s very hot weather and lack of regular rainfall makes it another popular place for turf. In 2014, there were 20 turf sports fields in New South Wales, 30 in 2018, and today there are more than 180. This six-fold increase is making its impact felt – recent stormwater analysis showed 70,000 particles of crumb rubber and more than 50,000 particles of synthetic grass in a single trap.

The same more extreme climate that makes turf an attractive alternative also makes it a less viable product. Lots of direct sun makes plastic break down more quickly, releasing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that rain then washes into the water table. It’s likely that the useful life of the turf will be even shorter than normal because of the harsh sunlight. 

Many community groups in Australia are concerned about the loss of green space, increase in microplastic pollution, the effects on the aquatic ecosystems, and the increase in heat that the turf is causing. 


China has implemented national standards that limit the migratory elements and harmful substances such as antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and selenium in sports’ artificial turf. They are also limiting VOCs, styrene, formaldehyde, PAHs, and the hazardous substances in vulcanized rubber powder. 

A home's yard with artificial grass.
A home’s yard with artificial grass.

Final Thoughts

I think it’s clear that I’m not a fan of artificial turf. I see a great many negatives with few or no positives: it removes living green matter, whether that’s grass or other plants which help wildlife, sequester CO2, filter pollutants, and cool the air.

Instead, turf offers a hard, inert product with its many sub-layers which release chemicals that harm the environment and sheds microplastics that are leaching into the soil and our water supplies. It increases erosion and promotes flash flooding. None of these things are beneficial.

Proponents may argue that it’s the best surface for multi-event venues. While there is some validity to that statement for the owners, it’s definitely not beneficial for the players who play on the surface.

To those who admire its year-round green state, imperviousness to heat and drought, my response is that there are climate appropriate landscape options, and the need for a constantly green lawn is more a construct of an arbitrary historical value system of beauty than the necessity to adapt your views to current realities of location, time availability, and monetary constraints.

Besides, I can’t imagine having a bright green lawn in the middle of winter, especially if you live where snow is common or everyone else’s grass goes into dormancy. That’s just strange. I’d also miss the feeling of renewal as I watch the grass green up in spring or being amused by birds scampering around the yard. If these things don’t appeal to you, think about green alternatives to grass that aren’t plastic. 

With so much talk about sustainability, climate change, and microplastics being found in the most remote spots on earth and in everything we ingest, it’s important to make choices about where plastic is more necessary and it’s not in unnecessary fake grass.


For more detailed information, please please refer to these sources.

Artificial turf and crumb rubber infill: An international policy review concerning the current state of regulations – PMC (

The Netherlands to phase out artificial turf over health and environmental concerns – Ministry of Sport

Federal Research on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields | US EPA

Rubber and Leather: Material-Specific Data | US EPA

Artificial grass controversy as campaigners call for taxes and bans | Natural History Museum (

Chemical Toxicity

Crumb-Rubber Infilled Synthetic Turf Athletic Fields (

Health impacts of artificial turf: Toxicity studies, challenges, and future directions – PubMed (


Does Artificial Turf Increase the Risk of Sports Injuries? (

Injuries Related to Artificial Turf | National Center for Health Research (

Synthetic Turf: History, Design, Maintenance, and Athlete Safety – PMC (

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