WUSTL partners with Teamsters, St. Louis Green to find new use for old turf

Efforts keep 1 million pounds of material from landfills, help community organizations

Rolls of Francis Field artificial turf are loaded onto trucks to reuse across the region. About 1 million pounds of waste was kept from landfills thanks to the university’s partnership with the Teamsters and St. Louis Green. (Credit: Mary Butkus)

Washington University in St. Louis, the Teamsters Joint Council 13 and St. Louis Green partnered to help used artificial turf from WUSTL’s Francis Field find a new life in playgrounds, parks and more throughout the region.

The turf was removed from WUSTL’s Francis Field May 22 and stored in rolls on the side of the field. On June 23, the Teamsters came to Francis Field to pick up the rolls of turf, loaded it onto trucks with WUSTL machinery, and distributed the rolls to organizations across the region.

Turf rolled up on the side of Francis Field awaiting pickup. (Credit: Christopher Mitchell)

Municipalities, schools and organizations that received the turf include Normandy High School, Roxana School District, 24:1 Initiative, Macon Baseball Association, and the cities of Northwoods, Pine Lawn, Vinita Park and Wellston.

The Francis Field turf was installed in 2004 but was approaching the end of its useful life as an NCAA Division III competitive playing field surface. It remained, however, safe to use in batting cages, dugouts, playgrounds, dog parks and more.

“We had a great opportunity to work with Washington University and St. Louis Green to keep a large amount of artificial turf out of a landfill and help provide artificial turf to areas of St. Louis that need it but might not otherwise have access to it,” says Roy Gillespie, special events coordinator for Teamsters Joint Council 13. “We are pleased to work with Washington University on this project.”

“Many people have thought of reusing turf,” says Ryan Lynch, project manager in WUSTL Facilities. “The problem is the logistics of finding those who need and want the turf, transporting it, reinstallation, etc. The Teamsters have been instrumental with their network of charitable organizations and ability to provide transportation of the material.”

Video of turf being removed from Francis Field May 22.

When WUSTL removed the old turf May 22, the university was left with the decision of what to do with the staggering 1 million pounds of used turf. As the used turf is not easily recycled, the simple option for getting rid of the turf was dumping it into a landfill, which would have added a million pounds of waste to landfills.

So members of WUSTL’s facilities office — including Lynch and Matt Conlon, capital projects manager — reached out to Phil Valko, WUSTL director of sustainability, to help find a solution that was more environmentally friendly.

Sending the old turf to a landfill didn’t fit the university’s strategic sustainability goals to reduce campus landfill waste, Valko says. In fact, it would have increased the university’s annual solid waste for the Danforth Campus by 15 percent, Valko says.

The best option was to find ways to reuse the turf in places such as batting cages, field dugouts and dog parks, where natural grass often can’t grow well due to large amounts of foot traffic.

To help find organizations that might be able to reuse the turf, Valko called St. Louis Green’s Cindy Breth, director of community development, who put the university in contact with the Teamsters.

Francis Field was turfless until new artificial turf could be installed. Installation of new turf began in June. (Credit: Christopher Mitchell)

The Teamsters community service team volunteered to transport and find organizations that could use the turf, which would be donated by WUSTL.

Reusing the turf is environmentally friendly in more ways than just keeping waste from landfills.

“By reusing our turf, the organizations that receive it will likely avoid buying newly manufactured materials, saving costs, raw materials and carbon,” Valko says.

Installation of new turf began in June. The new artificial turf for WUSTL’s Francis Field is manufactured by UBU Sports and is being installed by Byrne & Jones Sports and TTI Sports.