PFAS-coated clothes that are thrown away will often end up either incinerated or in landfill. Unless incinerated at very high temperatures (>1000oC), fluorinated polymers could release more harmful PFAS during burning. PFAS of environmental concern have also been found in landfill leachate. PFAS is found in treated waste water from industrial and domestic sources and has been found in both rivers and groundwater. Conventional drinking water processes will not remove PFAS.Small quantities of PFAS will be removed during wash and wear of products containing PFAS. This includes fluorinated polymers used on stain-resistant coatings, and non-polymers that remain on clothes after production (Lassen et al. 2015).Non-polymer PFAS can build up in blood protein of animals, and is not always removed quickly. This means that predators eating PFAS-contaminated food will have higher levels in their bloodstream, and concentrations can increase up the food chain. Studies suggest that build up of PFAS is similar to those of other Persistent Organic Pollutants such as DDT.PFAS are estimated to be settling in arctic regions at rates of tens to hundreds of kilograms per year (25-850kg per year), depending on the specific PFAS chemical in question. Certain PFAS are released as gases to the environment and are blown a long way by wind and air currents in the atmosphere,. These gas PFAS will over time degrade to more persistent chemicals like PFOS and PFOA. This may be one reason why PFAS of environmental concern have been found in remote regions such as the Arctic as well as near PFAS production sitesPFAS including PFOS and PFOA have been found in air samples around Europe. The chemicals are found in small quantities, but appear in almost all samples tested. PFAS enters the atmosphere both from factories and the air inside our homes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17554424 Non-polymer PFAS are used in the production of fluorinated polymers. The manufacture of stain-resistant finishes generally releases these PFASs into the environment, both by air and water emissions. They are very hard to remove during water treatment. Workers in textiles factories are some of the population most exposed to these potentially harmful chemicals.

Solutions

On this page we have compiled solutions to microplastic pollution from 3G artificial turf.

Where possible, playing fields without the use of microplastic are an obvious way to avoid negative issues from microplastic use.

If microplastic can’t be avoided, then there are still many practical options to minimise leaks into the environment.

Alternatives to microplastic

The best way to avoid microplastic escaping into the environment is, of course, not to use it in the first place. With a growing range of alternatives available we think microplastic infill may soon be a thing of the past. Many communities are avoiding microplastic infill, or even artificial pitches entirely, and are still getting plenty of access to outdoor play.

Natural Grass

Communities face tough choices when investing in outdoor pitches and finding suitable sport sites. The perfect pitch for one site may not work for another and it all depends on where the pitch is placed is and how it is going to be used.

From a Fidra perspective, we would always recommend that communities consider natural grass over artificial pitches considering the biodiversity and wellbeing benefits of greenspaces. However, we’re aware that a manicured pitch is far from being a ‘natural’ surface and comes with its own potential environmental impacts. We want to see maximum community benefit from sports fields, with minimal environmental impact, which is something to think about whatever surface you choose.

Check out our blog comparing environmental impacts of different sports surfaces: Is grass always greener?

Alternative Infills

3G sports pitches need to be topped with a relatively soft performance infill to recreate the feel of real grass and reduce risk of injury. Synthetic rubber is by far the most common material used, partly because it is well-suited to providing the right level of ‘bounce’, but also because waste rubber from tyres is a material that is readily available and cheap. However, this is not the only material on the market. There are natural, biodegradable materials that can be used instead of synthetic microplastic to provide the same quality of play. As more communities choose to find alternatives to rubber crumb, a growing range of alternative infills are coming on the market.

Choosing an infill can be tricky as each material has different advantages and disadvantages. Alternative organic infills can be more expensive per tonne than rubber from old tyres, although you may be able to use less of it, meaning the total cost might actually be lower. Some alternative infills marketed as ‘environmentally friendly’ are still microplastics, or blends between organic and synthetic materials, that won’t biodegrade in the environment.

We’ve made the table below to help you navigate the different types of infill we’ve found available, linking to case studies where we’ve known new types to be used successfully.

[Table coming soon]

Do you have experience of playing on, designing or constructing pitches using alternative infills? Have you found alternatives on the market that aren’t listed here? Please get in touch by sending an email to info@fidra.org.uk

Non-infill and hybrid pitches

Alternative artificial pitches that don’t need any infill are also becoming more popular, particularly with 5-aside pitches or community fields. A range of manufacturers are now providing technical solutions to make these surfaces match the quality, safety and durability of pitches with infill.

Another option might be to opt for a hybrid pitch – these use a combination of natural grass and synthetic fibers. Real soil can be used to fill in the structure of the pitch, avoiding the need for microplastic infill.

Research and Innovation

With more communities avoiding microplastic infill, demand is growing for alternatives that allow maximum access to good quality training, while minimising environmental impact.

We’re calling for microplastic, chemical and circular economy issues to be factored into ongoing research, both for artificial and natural surfaces.

Stopping Microplastic Loss

The majority of artificial pitches still use loose microplastic infill and while rubber crumb remains a cheap and effective option, this isn’t likely to change. There are lots of ways to make sure that microplastic remains on the pitch, but to really minimise loss requires action from pitch designers, owners and users.

Mitigation through physical barriers

Most pitches have been created without considering the issue microplastic pollution. This means infill can easily escape from pitch edges due to the lack of physical barrier. Boot brushes are often set up outside the fence, to avoid mud getting on the pitch, rather than stop microplastic coming off. In many cases, simple changes can be made to significantly reduce risk of losses: from adding kick-boards around the pitch perimeter to filters in nearby drains.

When building a new pitch, it can be relatively straightforward to add these physical barriers without a significant increase to the overall budget. You can even save money by using less infill overall.

Existing pitches can use temporary measures to minimise losses before bigger changes are made during a refurbishment cycle. Even where you are planning to use alternative infills, adding physical barriers can be sensible to avoid losing infill; especially as organic infill is often lighter and more mobile than microplastics like the commonly used SBR rubber crumb.

Maintenance and pitch user behavior

Microplastic is lost during routine maintenance of pitches. It is also trodden off by players when the microplastic sticks to their boots and kit. Small practical changes to the way that pitches are brushed, cleaned and de-compacted can reduce the amount of infill that comes off the edges of the pitch during maintenance. For pitch users, it can be as simple as making sure that players shake out their boots out over a bin or on the pitch, rather than outside or down the drain.

These practical steps can make a difference if everyone ‘pitches in’, and that’s why we have collated guidelines which will help all those using or interacting with 3G pitches to do their part. But while we still use microplastic we will never completely stop pollution. That’s why we’d like to see ongoing focus on using alternative materials, particularly for new pitches.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the various options to tackling microplastic loss from 3G pitches, check out our Guidelines for cleaner pitches.

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 encouraging microplastic-free pitches, making sure plastic stays on the pitch where used and sensible reuse or recycling at the end of its life.