For schools and property owners who have athletic fields, there is ongoing debate about which is better, natural or artificial turf. For schools with robust youth sports programs, the need is for safe, cost-effective fields and the debate is no less settled now than it was when artificial turf first came into popularity, as the design of artificial turf continues to improve. However, a number of factors make natural turf a better option for Georgia athletic fields.
There are a number of misconceptions about the benefits of artificial turf compared to natural turf. One is that synthetic turf requires little or no maintenance. But synthetic fields require irrigation in hot weather. Disinfection is also a growing issue, as artificial turf has been linked to an increase in virulent staph infections in players. And other maintenance is required also. Artificial turf fields need to be in-filled whenever damage occurs, and has to be kept clean of organic matter and odors that cling to surfaces. Organic turf has fewer of these issues, as the natural cycles of watering, drainage and decomposition by bacteria in the soil keep it clean without much human intervention.
Actual costs of turf and artificial athletic field installations vary widely, but are somewhat on par. Artificial turfs do not need to be reseeded and are not affected by seasonal changes, and they do not need frequent watering or release allergens that can irritate athletes or fans seasonally. Despite this, natural turf is the overwhelming choice of athletes, who complain that playing on artificial surfaces causes more soreness and muscle fatigue. In the south, another issue is overheating of artificial turf, which can make a field literally too hot to play on.
One of the considerations not commonly considered is one of disposal. The average artificial turf installation needs to be replaced or renovated every decade or less. Cumulatively, the costs of replacement are even higher, as natural turf tends to stay looking great as long as it is properly maintained throughout the years. The real hidden cost is disposal. Landfill and removal costs alone are estimated to be over $100,000. For school systems or other owners looking at the long term, these costs are significant.
For almost any environmental concern, natural grass is going to be the surface of choice. Natural grass fields convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and offer lower temperatures and a fresher surface for players. Beyond that, synthetic turf can only emulate the natural beauty of a healthy, living field of grass. With the costs for both relatively the same, for Georgia fields, natural turf stills seems the better solution.