What is the Difference Between Astroturf and Grass?
Astroturf is a synthetic alternative to grass that can be used as a substitute for any area where grass is normally planted. While natural grass is a good additive to the environment, it does require water and upkeep to keep from turning an unattractive yellow-brown color. While using AstroTurf, the installation is a place-it-and-forget-it process. AstroTurf was originally a brand name, but this has been dropped and is now used to refer to any make of synthetic grass field turf. The cost of installing AstroTurf is approximately twice that of natural grass, and there is the need to consider whether the lack of upkeep is a practical trade-off.
AstroTurf is becoming more popular and commonly used in drier desert areas where water conservation is a concern. Some cities even offer financial incentives to home owners who remove their natural grass from their yards and install astroturf with other desert landscaping instead. Sports stadiums also commonly install AstroTurf on their fields because it is more resistant to wear and tear. This material is made from polyethylene nylon fibers, and it now often comes coated with antibacterial protective components that greatly reduce the need for cleaning.
A drawback to AstroTurf is that is has been found to trap and retain heat. During the summer months, playing sports on AstroTurf can be uncomfortable and even dangerous in excessively hot weather. Part of this issue comes from the bottom material of AstroTurf, which is the same type of rubber used in automobile tires. This can even create excessive heat problems for cities with large areas of artificial turf. When this happens, it becomes necessary to hose down the too-hot AstroTurf with water. Installing AstroTurf can command a higher initial fee, but the lack of upkeep costs balance this out. It also has the advantage of lacking ruts or pits that can be a problem for athletes.
One positive aspect of natural grass is that it provides an environment for insects and microbes. This benefits the ecosystem for these organisms that naturally break down pollutants and other environmental hazards. Natural grass also has the opposite cooling effect as AstroTurf's heat trapping effect. Maintanence of natural grass can also be a negative as far as the environment is concerned. Use of pesticides and other chemicals can have an impact on the grass ecosystem as well.
Planting natural grass involves installing sod pieces with the right combination of water and fertilizer that will ensure it starts growing correctly. When using natural grass for a sports field, there are also the considerations of having the grass mowed regularly, repainting the field lines, and replacing worn out areas of sod. The maintenance costs of all this can add up, and it can often come down to a judgement call whether these expenses are worth the ecosystem benefits.
Grass blades and AstroTurf fibers have the same basic chemical make up of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen. The difference with astroturf is the polyethelene mixed in with the rest of these elements. Therefore, AstroTurf does not engage in photosynthesis or the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen.