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Plastic Pitches

 

Artificial sports pitches have grown more and more popular since they were invented in the 1970s.  The number of full-size pitches in Europe grew threefold between 2006-2012, and new pitches continue to be built year on year [1]. 

A local sports pitch is a great opportunity for outdoor play, whether it’s made of natural or synthetic grass. But did you know that artificial pitches can also release microplastic to the environment? And what happens to the old pitch when it needs to be replaced?

Microplastic from artificial pitches

 

What is rubber crumb?

Many artificial sports pitches use third generation (3G) technology, which means fine granules, usually made of rubber, are added as a performance infill to make a more comfortable playing surface. This is especially important for contact sports like football and rugby as it reduces injury.

The most common performance infill is made of rubber from old vehicle tyres (SBR rubber), although other materials can also be used including other types of plastic and some biodegradable alternatives like cork.

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 notice the little granules turning up in your shoes, or in your kit. 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.  

How much is lost?

For an average sized pitch, rubber granules need to be topped up around 1 to 5 tonnes each year, which is around 1-4% of the total rubber crumb on the pitch. It is difficult to know exactly how much of this ‘lost granule’ ends up in ecosystems.

Across Europe, we estimate that about 10% ends up down drains (~900-8000 tonnes of granule), while almost half is likely to build up in nearby soil and 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].  

Does rubber crumb leach other harmful substances?

The most common type of performance infill is rubber, which is usually made from ground up old car and lorry tyres. The rubber, and other types of plastic performance infill, can contain small quantities of potentially harmful chemicals and heavy metals.

These chemical can leach out over time, and will continue to escape from granules sitting on the pitch, in soil or water. 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 it’s hard to know how to dispose of it when it can no longer be used, particularly as shredded rubber granules from tyres are banned from 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 recycled [5] . We want to make sure all pitches are installed with a clear end of life plan in place.

What is Fidra doing?

 

At Fidra, we want to ensure both new and existing pitches are being designed, maintained and used without having a big impact on the environment. This means making sure that plastic stays on the pitch and making sure the whole pitch can be sensibly reused or recycled at the end of the pitch’s life.

Together with the organisation KIMO international, we have put together a set of best practice guidelines to minimise rubber granule loss from pitches. We have guidelines for pitch users, pitch owners and maintenance teams, as well as pitch designers.

Want to take action?

Download our Cleaner Pitch Guidelines for free to find out what you can do to reduce microplastic loss.

You can also create your own taylor-made Microplastics Action Plan to help you achieve your goals.

We want to see best practice techniques used across all new and existing pitches, to stop microplastic leaking into the environment. We want the simple ideas from our guidelines fitted into standards, certifications and procurement protocol, and are raising awareness with existing pitch owners and decision makers.

Together with KIMO International, we have created the Pitch In community toolkit to spread the word about microplastics from pitches with those who use them.

Get Involved

Take part to help spread the word and reduce the spread of microplastic

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?

Take Action

Do you own or take care of a pitch?

Download our practical guidelines to reduce microplastic loss from pitches, and make your own Microplastics Action Plan

Do you play on a Pitch?

Check out our Pitch In community toolkit, to find out how you can get involved in #TeamPitch-In to tackle microplastic from your local pitch

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 info@fidra.org.uk

References:

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: http://re-match.dk/