Editorial: Turf the plastic

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When reducing plastic in our environment has become a mantra, it’s hard to believe that replacing a natural grass field with artificial turf is being considered in the Gulf Islands School District.

The Salt Spring Youth Soccer Association has proposed installing a synthetic grass product on a Gulf Islands Secondary School field and covering the initial capital cost of more than $2 million.

Some of the reasons for opting for turf are compelling. Fields made from polyethylene and other plastics can be used year-round and not only when weather and grass conditions are optimal. Water resources are saved by not having to water a natural grass field. Maintenance costs can be lower. As well, athletes using turf fields are reportedly less prone to being injured.

However, the products only last only about 12 years before needing replacement. When the numbers are truly crunched, as they have been in time for today’s school board meeting, there is virtually no difference in cost for the school district over the long term between maintaining a grass field and taking the artificial turf path. Using just the financial argument, school board staff have recommended not proceeding with the project. Trustees are scheduled to make their decision this afternoon (Dec. 11).

But just as important as costs are the environmental and health impacts of synthetic fields. While the soccer association has proposed using biodegradable coconut fibre as infill, in part to prevent pollution from pellets that migrate into water bodies, the plastic grass can itself be a problem. Recycling options may be an issue when the field needs to be replaced. The artificial grass blades can also detach and enter the surrounding environment. That was witnessed recently with the plastic field at Oak Bay High School.

The Gulf Islands School Board will also consider declaring a climate emergency today. To do that and support a turf field on the same day is simply not rational.

As Agricultural Land Commission approval for a turf field is required, the school board could punt the decision off to the ALC, but they should not do that.

instead they should heed their staff report, which suggests finding ways and funds to improve the GISS field in question, an option that makes far more sense.

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