Decades ago, we had no idea scrap tires would turn into such a serious environmental concern—becoming breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes, rupturing landfill liners, damaging ocean reef ecosystems, and erupting into horrifying tire fires. We also had no idea how useful scrap tires could become if only we had an effective way of recycling them, and that’s why tire shredders are such crucial equipment to global recycling efforts.

Once old tires have gone through tire shredders, such as the EcoGreen Equipment’s top-of-the-line machinery, and been reduced to crumb rubber, there is a wide array of uses for them. One such use for crumb rubber is aggregate or filler in artificial turf for sports fields.

History of Artificial Turf

When did we come up with the idea to play sports on fake grass, anyway? It was initially developed for the Astrodome in Houston, Texas in 1966, because there was no way to maintain real grass underneath the stadium’s roof (Source: Tencate). This original artificial turf was grass made of nylon fibers.

The second generation of synthetic turf had wider-spaced “grass” and used sand as filler, which turned out to be very hard on the players whenever they slid across it, not to mention hard in general. That led to the third generation, which uses crumb rubber as aggregate—a cushier alternative to sand.  

Who Uses Artificial Turf?

Synthetic turf is particularly popular for indoor stadiums simply because it’s so difficult to keep grass alive indoors, but athletes of some sports like it better than others. Soccer players tend to prefer grass, but synthetic turf is used so often for field hockey that it has actually changed the way the game is played. It’s also often used for baseball stadiums.

A lot of professional football players prefer real grass to artificial turf, but during the 2016 NFL season, 13 of the 32 teams used artificial turf in their stadiums, including the Cowboys, the Seahawks, the Patriots, the Colts, and the Vikings.

Pros of Crumb Rubber for the Pros

A good artificial turf field has softer impacts on the players’ feet as they run than a grass field, because the rubber crumbs compress together when stepped on, to create a nice, springy effect. Grass fields, on the other hand, are difficult to keep completely smooth, so they can provide an uneven surface for athletes. The smoother the surface, the harder and faster players can play their game, which makes it more fun for them and more intense for spectators.

The fact that artificial turf is artificial also removes all of the lawn-care maintenance costs of real grass, and it means that the seasons and weather have less of an impact on playability.

Crumbs in Cleats and Turf Burns

The loose rubber crumbs in artificial turf go flying when athletes run across fields, which means one of the most immediate cons to using crumb rubber as artificial turf aggregate is that it gets everywhere. It gets in cleats, it gets in clothes, it gets in crevices… In that way, it can be a bit of a nuisance. This is merely annoying, though; not a serious problem.

The bigger issue is turf burns. Turf burns are what sometimes happens when a player slides along artificial turf. Sliding on grass gives you grass stains, while sliding on turf can give you painful scrapes. Other problems include that the hardness of the field causes more wear and tear on the players’ joints, like with the older sand aggregate, and that the field gets hotter than a real grass field.

All of these problems are more of an issue for older crumb rubber fields, and we’ll take a look at why that is in the next section, and what newer innovations have done to perfect artificial turf.

Not All Artificial Turf Is Created Equal

The safety level of the artificial turf depends greatly upon the shape of the rubber particles in it. When the particles are jagged and irregular, they tend to shift, creating differences in the surface of the field. It can also make the field more slippery for players to run on when it’s wet. There’s no need to get rid of crumb rubber aggregate to solve these problems, however; the crumbs simply need to be round and uniform.

Brands like FieldTurf use this kind of crumb rubber in their artificial turf. It drains better (helping it stay cool and dry), it’s much softer and springier (and therefore easier on the joints), and it creates less “splash” when athletes run on it, meaning that less of the rubber crumbs bounce out so it doesn’t become uneven or send as many crumbs into cleats. Best of all, it leads to even fewer player injuries than real grass (Source: Field Turf)!

According to a three-year study of college football, fields with FieldTurf yield some pretty impressive decreases in injury statistics when compared to fields with real grass:

  • 13% Fewer Muscle Strains / Tears
  • 11% Fewer Concussions
  • 31% Fewer Ligament Tears
  • 24% less High Ankle Sprains
  • 21% Fewer Severe Injuries
  • 23% Fewer Injuries on 4-8+ Year Old Surface

Other studies have shown similar results. If the artificial turf gets any better, real grass fields might soon become a thing of the past.

From the Road to the End Zone

Most of the crumb rubber used in football fields comes from shredded tires, which means there’s a small possibility that some of your old tires are now cushioning your favorite teams as they play! Okay, it’s probably a very small possibility, but it’s still a pretty cool life cycle for a tire.
Whether the crumb rubber is going into football fields or being used for a myriad of other purposes, it all has to go through a tire shredder first, and EcoGreen’s shredders are the best in the tire recycling industry. Feel free to bring any questions you have about tire shredding and how you or your company can get involved in it to our experts today!