AstroTurf is a classic example of the ethical question: “do the ends justify the means?” Sure, AstroTurf offsets immense energy and water costs associated with typical plots of grass, but its production and materials are not environmentally friendly. This is an interesting dilemma that creates an even more interesting product. In all, AstroTurf is moderately sustainable; it checks all of the boxes. But the company that makes the turf has a good way to go before this faux-grass can actually label itself environmentally sustainable.
AstroTurf is made of two materials: nylon and polyester. As you can see in the picture listed above, the two materials correspond to the two facets of the product. Polyester is used for the carpet “backing” and nylon is used for the artificial blades of grass. Both of these products are not environmentally sustainable and utilize non-renewable resources in their production. According to Greenbiz, “the production of nylon is similar to that of polyester, with similar environmental consequences. Like polyester, nylon is made from a non-renewable resource (oil) in an energy-intensive process. It sheds microplastic fibers that end up in waterways and oceans every time it is washed, and because it is not biodegradable, it will end up sitting in a landfill at the end of its product life cycle.” On top of this, polyester cannot be recycled and relies on oil/coal extraction. Despite the fact that the physical products used to make AstroTurf aren’t necessarily sustainable, it is worth discussing that this turf does lead to sustainable practices as collateral. According to the official AstroTurf website, each synthetic field of turf saves approximately 2,480,000 gallons of water per year. On top of this, large plots of turf do not require fertilizers, chemicals, or energy-intensive mowing. It’s the collateral that makes this product a bit more sustainable. While nylon and polyester have a long way to go, their usage offsets a significant amount of unsustainable procedures that would’ve been utilized otherwise. In terms of future efforts, the company could begin to utilize sustainable alternatives, also. Econyl, a recyclable form of nylon, is an emerging product in the environmental sector and uses pre-consumer fabric waste to simulate the same material. While the materials currently used aren’t sustainable, they offset their impact in other ways.
AstroTurf is made through a multistep process. First, the proprietary ingredients are blended together and dyed green. Then, they are fed into a large steel mixer and turned into a thickened liquid which is then pulled, straightened, and woven into yarn. After this, these pieces are taken to a tufting machine where they are woven into the polyester-based backing. Finally, the product is rolled and shipped out for sale. In all, the process that leads to the creation of AstroTurf is not entirely sustainable. There is a significant number of chemical processes used to manufacture the raw materials including dyeing and infusion, and byproducts from production are generally non-recyclable or harmful to the environment. For example, MadeHow notes that “older turf that has been worn down is typically recycled,” but leaves ambiguity in terms of turf that isn’t older. One can assume that “newer” turf that doesn’t make the cut likely ends up in a landfill or isn’t recycled to its full extent. On top of this, I found little information on the electrical usage needed for the tufting process, but it’s relatively reasonable to assume that it includes energy intensity. Because turf is so finely braided, tufting is tedious, and it mostly occurs in Calhoun, GA. If this process is intensive and occurs in a less sustainably-minded area of the United States, one can definitely assume that the procedure is unsustainable and likely relies on non-renewable energy for completion. There aren’t many redeeming qualities to the turf-making process, leaving it quite unsustainable.
AstroTurf has a very strong commitment to sustainability. For each of their products, they include a blurb on sustainability and list their offsetting qualities. The companies statement on sustainability reads: “AstroTurf takes its environmental stewardship very seriously and constantly seeks new and more progressive materials and processes to reduce our environmental footprint.” On top of this, the company is making an effort to offset oil usage by investing in BioCel, a soybean-based polyurethane coating that offsets petroleum usage. This coating is applied to all turf in the post-production process and keeps the turf lasting long-term. This strategy also supports 600,000 American soybean farmers which generates sustainability in the farming industry as well. AstroTurf also utilizes recycled bottles recovered from the waste streams of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park in their turf production. Recycling plastic also helps offset the environmental impact of nylon. One area that the company could certainly improve is its commitment to sustainable manufacturing processes. While the product does generate sustainability, the product itself is not environmentally friendly. Investing in alternatives and using renewable energy to create the turf is the next step that AstroTurf can and should take. Overall, the company does have an impressive environmental commitment, though.