Fighting Synthetic Turf

Say NO to Plastic Fields and Rubber Playgrounds

Maryland synthetic turf inventory

Goals for recreation, sports and play surfaces

  • Preventing waste
  • Promoting safe, healthy, non-toxic play
  • Protecting green space
  • Minimizing carbon footprint

The Problem

By the end of 2018 at least 45,000 acres of formerly vegetated land in the US had been covered by at least 100 million pounds of plastic and tire waste disintegrating into air, water, soil and people, before removal and disposal of the plastic (aka synthetic or artificial turf) fields and their synthetic granulated rubber infill. An equivalent amount of new petroleum-based plastic was, and will continue to be, used to create replacement fields, with more than 1000 new fields being installed per year according to the industry (if spread over the year that would average 3 or more per day).

An average single 80,000 sq ft. field contains 40,000 lbs of plastic carpeting and 400,000 lbs of infill (usually granulated tire waste sometimes mixed with sand). As of April 2022, Maryland had at least 380 synthetic turf playing fields, amounting to more than 71,000 tons of plastic carpet and infill, nearly 130,000 cubic yards of infill (the equivalent of 4,325 thirty-yard dumpsters), and 25.6 million square feet of plastic carpet (589 acres).

Synthetic turf fields have a large carbon footprint, and their toxic substances end up as ‘forever waste'. Greenhouse gasses ethylene and methane are emitted from the plastic carpets continuously throughout their lifespan. Children face unique risks from toxins, heat, hardness and abrasions playing on plastic fields (with any kind of infill) or playgrounds made from tires. 

For photos and descriptions of synthetic turf fields and synthetic playgrounds see:
and click on the informational brochure at:

For more information on synthetic turf fields in Maryland and recent legislation to require a chain of custody from installation to disposal to deter improper disposal and dumping, see:

tire waste shouldn't go to kids playing fields

Sports fields cover many acres of parkland and are usually the largest area of vegetated green space available to the students at schools, and often to  their surrounding communities, especially in urban and suburban areas. Playgrounds are challenged to be fall protective and accessible.  Natural play surfaces on sports fields and playgrounds are the safest, coolest, healthiest, most sustainable,surfaces available while also cleaning and infiltrating water and oxygenating air. But of course they need care as any living thing does.  When correctly installed and maintained, with attention to soils, drainage and appropriate grass types,  grass fields  are durable and playable under most conditions and can be organically maintained. Modern cost-effective installation and maintenance techniques ensure great grass  fields and natural surface playgrounds along with their ecosystem and health benefits (and at a fraction of the cost of synthetic poured in place rubber)  engineered wood fiber surfacing for playgrounds is both ADA accessible and most fall protective. 

So why has plastic carpeting (aka synthetic turf) become so ubiquitous on sports fields? The answer starts with the fact that plastics have become a main revenue source for the  fossil fuel gas and petroleum and chemical industries. (see: NPR / PBS Frontline - Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic; March 31, 2020 and  Yale University - The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way; December 19, 2019

Since plastic athletic and residential outdoor field carpets are so large and wear out and need to be replaced often, they  have become a “cash cow” for fossil fuel, chemical industries and the carpet manufacturers. Therefore these industries have pushed, successfully, plastic athletic fields (a.k.a. artificial or synthetic turf) and synthetic rubber (mostly tire waste) playgrounds as easy care options while downplaying their substantial maintenance needs, ongoing costs, toxicity and waste. The truth is -synthetic replacements for natural surfaces have a large carbon footprint due to their fossil fuel ingredients, their emissions during plastic carpet manufacture, their methane and ethylene greenhouse gas emissions as they break down while in place,  and their short usable lifespans. Both plastic fields and tire waste surfaced playgrounds also pose significant health and environmental risks: they become hotter than asphalt, dangerously hard, and pollute air, soil, water and users with microplastics and toxic substances while in use, before generating huge amounts of non-biodegradable, non-recyclable waste upon disposal (every 8 years on average). 

According to one comprehensive recent summary of the problems (and how to do grass better)  from the Healthy Building Network,  UIC School of Public Health, Toxics Use Reduction Institute and the University of Massachusetts Lowell: 

…“It is important to make careful choices about children’s chemical exposures since exposures now can cause problems with their health in the future. Teens and young adults are also vulnerable to the impacts of toxic chemicals because of their developing reproductive systems. One potential source of preventable exposures is artificial turf. Children playing on artificial turf {and tire rubber playgrounds} can be exposed to the turf materials through breathing, skin contact, and even ingestion when they dive and fall on the surface.”... 

ACTIONS everyone can take


  1. for safe healthy natural surface playfields
  2. to prevent funding and installation of highly polluting synthetic-turf and tire waste play surfacing
  3. to officially track and regulate synturf and infill disposal.


Interested in learning more about synthetic turf?  See the Resources page.


Want to make a difference on this issue? To volunteer on state legislation, email: