We live in difficult times, not only economically but also environmentally. Within the last 5 years, specifically in the Las Vegas Valley, we have seen a tidal wave of momentum swing toward the use of artificial turf in lieu of natural living grass. Sure, water is a privileged resource here in the valley that we need to preserve. This feeling has merit because Las Vegas has been the poster child of abusing water use since the Las Vegas development boom in the mid 20th century. “Oasis in the Desert” as some people proclaimed. Well, we still want that oasis but without sucking the life out of our environment.
Are we really being conscientious about our environment and future by installing artificial turf as our oasis substitute? Yes and No. Artificial Turf companies have modified and molded their products to use more recycled material, less harmful substances and have a less abrasive surface during the hottest months of the year. I have heard stories from friends who have children playing field sports during warm days, where their kids are burning their feet and smelling some of the chemicals contained within the product. How we use artificial turf should not be as important as how we construct these artificial fields.
I have no problem with using artificial turf here in the valley but we need to make sure the subsurface is carefully designed to include ample sub soil, drainage, cushioning and possibly less recycled infill. Many new products have a smaller concentration of thatching within the blades to take the place of rubber and plastic infill. This method will reduce a small amount of heat and not get those pieces of infill caught within your shoes, socks and unmentionables. Also, having irrigation to temporary spray down of the fields will create a cooler environment for anyone using the artificial turf fields.
I think we can survive and live with artificial turf as part of our oasis, but we need to be careful that we don’t forget why we love natural turf in the first place; providing comfortable, practical and natural spaces for everyone to enjoy. If we forget that, then we are essentially creating more heat islands or artificial parking lots.