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Almanac Archive for Jan. 12, 2021

Conservation Almanac Special Edition
      Thursday: MV Commission Takes up Artificial Turf Proposal

Testing Our Commitment to Sustainability
     Artificial turf: An expedient solution, and a turn toward suburbanization

As reported yesterday in the Vineyard Gazette, a controversial proposal to renovate and expand the athletic facilities at the MV Regional High School is now under review by the MV Commission as a Development of Regional Impact. The most contentious aspect of the project, which also includes the construction of a 704-seat grandstand and press box, new field lighting, and a 4,800 sq. ft. fieldhouse, is the plan to install an artificial turf playing field.

VCS opposes artificial turf for tangible environmental harms, including increased plastic waste and pollution, chemical toxicity, and climate change impacts. These issues are detailed in our written testimony to the MVC. However, there is also the less tangible matter of what this proposed development represents: a test of whether we, as an Island, are committed to sustainability or expedience. Much of the important discussion surrounding the choice between natural vs. plastic grass is technical, but on this question it can be very simple. Natural grass is sustainable and renewable; plastic grass is neither. When a plastic field wears out, it is renewed by ripping up the carpet and shipping it to Asia or the nearest landfill that will accept it. When a grass field wears out, it is renewed by sun, water, and carbon dioxide.

Thursday Night: MVC Public Hearing
The public hearing process begins this Thursday (Jan. 14) at 7:05 pm, via Zoom. Please read our testimony and then participate in any way you can, either by writing or speaking during the hearing. If you wish to speak - and we urge you to do so - the MVC has requested pre-registration via email to Lucy Morrison. Written comments, which may be as simple as a short email indicating your opposition to the project, should also be sent to Lucy via email. For more on the MVC's Public Hearing Protocols, click here.

Meeting info:
Dial (646) 558-8656
Meeting ID: 819 2724 1544

Waste Disposal and Artificial Turf
     Is optimism or cynicism behind the plastic industry's unsupported claims of recyclability?
Understanding that many readers don't have the time to read our letter to the MVC in its entirety, we offer this excerpt on the serious issues surrounding disposal of used turf, and the investigative journalism that uncovered them: 

Artificial turf wears out under normal usage, and periodically (every 8 to 12 years) the entire field must be ripped out, shipped off-Island for disposal, and replaced. Disposal costs are substantial because, contrary to claims from the synthetic turf industry, there is no economically viable market for recycling artificial turf. In fact, there is presently no recycling available in the USA at all, at any price. Landfilling is currently the most sustainable option, but it is expensive. (A typical field weighs 220 tons, according to the industry group.)
As has been reported by multiple news outlets, the challenge and expense of plastic turf disposal, coupled with a lack of regulation and chain-of-custody agreements, has resulted in a nationwide rash of illegal dumping and other serious environmental consequences. In Franklin, MA, rolls of discarded turf were found near the town’s drinking water supply, two years after the replacement of their artificial turf field. Both the turf and the water tested positive for PFAS (Boston Globe). An investigation published in The Atlantic revealed that this kind of improvised, unregulated dumping is occurring across the USA, but also can be found in Europe (despite the presence in Denmark of the world’s only recycling facility for artificial turf). In central Pennsylvania, the discovery of thousands of rolls of turf stashed on private land prompted the York Daily Record to undertake an investigation, with similar findings.
These shocking environmental outcomes are not necessarily the result of willful action by the owners of turf fields. The synthetic turf industry continues to promote claims of recyclability. These claims should be understood as highly optimistic about future developments in the industry, or, less charitably, as a deliberate greenwashing campaign to sell an unsustainable product.

Above: This roadside dumping ground has become a popular destination for used turf from across central Pennsylvania, with new rolls simply placed on top of older ones. Photo by Paul Kuehnel, see York Daily Record for more.
The long shadow of a frosty January day


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The Vineyard Conservation Society is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to preserving the environment of Martha’s Vineyard through advocacy, education and the protection of the Island’s land and water.

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