Plastic Pitches


Artificial sports pitches have been around since the 1970s and provide very dry, or very wet, countries with the opportunity to play sports whatever the weather. Supporters of artificial pitches point out that they can be used much more regularly than natural grass pitches, and they don’t need as much water, pesticide or fertilizer than grass.

Whatever your own opinion on artificial pitches, it’s clear that they’re here to stay. The number of full-size pitches in Europe has grown threefold between 2006-2012, and this growth is estimated to continue to at least 2020 [1]. 

But did you know that artificial turf can also be a source of microplastic to the environment? And what happens to the old pitch when it needs to be replaced?

Microplastic from artificial pitches


The latest third generation (3G) technology uses fine granules of rubber to make a comfortable playing surface – this is especially important for contact sports like football and rugby to reduce injury. These loose granules sit in between the strands of grass on the top of the carpet. If you’ve ever played on a field like this you’ll probably have noticed the little granules in your shoes, or in your kit once you’ve taken it home. Not only do they end up in your bags and sports clothing, they can also escape from the edges of the pitch, down drains, into local water sources and surrounding soils.  

For an average sized pitch, the rubber granules need to be topped up around 1 to 5 tonnes each year. This suggests around 1-4% of the granule is lost each year. It is difficult to know exactly how much of this ‘lost granule’ ends up in ecosystems. Across Europe, it’s been estimated that around 10% ends up down drains (~900-8000 tonnes of granule), while almost half is estimated to end up in nearby soil/grass (8000-32500 tonnes per year) [2]. Field studies in the Netherlands found up to 70kg per year entering nearby water courses from a single pitch [3].  

There have been concerns about the rubber crumb used, which is usually made from ground up car and lorry tyres. The rubber can contain small quantities of harmful chemicals and heavy metals that could leach out, especially if the granules are left sitting in the environment for some time. Studies show that zinc, in particular, might be leaching out from fields in quantities that could harm the environment [4].

Disposal of Artificial Pitches


Artificial pitches should be replaced every 8 to 10 years, to ensure a safe and good quality playing surface. Because the different layers of a pitch are made of different types of plastic, rubber, and other materials, it’s very difficult to recycle and many pitches end up in landfill.  

 New advances in technology are making it easier to recycle pitches. New technology can lift out, shred and sort pitches, letting 99% material be reused or recycledv. We want to make sure all pitches are being recycled once their usable life is up. 

What is Fidra doing?


New artificial pitches are being built at an increasing rate, and so far, little attention has been paid to their environmental impact, particularly from the microplastic perspective. At Fidra, we want to ensure both new and existing pitches are being designed, maintained and used in a way to minimise their impact on the environment. This means making sure that plastic stays on the pitch and ensuring that all the components on the pitch are sensibly reused or recycled at the end of the pitch’s life.

To make this vision a reality, our project is focusing on the following tasks

We are working with KIMO international to collate a set of best practice guidelines to minimise rubber granule loss from pitches. As part of this we’ll be speaking to industry experts and communities that have already trialled best practice.

We want to promote best practice across Scotland, the UK, and internationally using standards, certifications, procurement protocol and through engagement with local and national government.

We are creating a community toolkit to spread the word about microplastics from pitches and what users, and community groups, can do to make their own pitches greener.

We want to encourage research and innovation to focus on the environment as well as pitch quality – can we design entirely “zero microplastic” pitches in the future?

Want to get involved?

Watch this space! We will be adding more information to this website soon to show exactly how you can take part to help spread the word and reduce the spread of microplastic.

Sign up below if you want us to let you know when the new web pages are ready:

Do you use a pitch in your local area and want to get involved with your own community?

 Are you a pitch owner wanting to find out what to do to improve the environmental impact of your pitch?

 Do you have comments or suggestions, or want to find out more?

 Get in touch by e-mailing


1. Eunomia Research & Consulting (2018) Investigating options for reducing releases in the aquatic environment emitted by (but not intentionally added in) products. Report for DG Environment of the European Commission 

[2] ibid

[3] . Weijer, A., J. Knol, and U. Hofstra, 2017, Verspreiding van infill en indicatieve massabalans. Rapport i.o.v. BSCN i.s.m. gemeenten Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amsterdam en Den Haag, I. SWECO,  48 pages.

[4] Cheng, H., Hu, Y., & Reinhard, M. (2014). Environmental and health impacts of artificial turf: a review. Environmental science & technology48(4), 2114-2129.

[5] E.g. Re-Match Turf Recycling, Denmark:

© Fidra