Although created using rubber from recycled car tires, polymer-based infill materials within some of our artificial turf pitch systems are recognised and classified as microplastics, due to the way in which they can break down over the time.
There are already a number of alternative organic infills that are coming to market in place of polymer based ones. Whether it be cork, coconut husk or olive stone granulate, these are being tested in place of rubber crumb to ensure they meet governing body standards. Some of these also come with their own environmental concerns e.g. the farming of organic material and fungus growth problems, so research is ongoing into what the best solutions are for the future. Our partners FieldTurf have already created ‘Purefill’ and ‘Pureselect’, organic infills made from cork and olive cores respectively.
With a 2017 report by FIFA showing that only 3% of performance infill usage on Football pitches was organic material, our hope is that manufacturers will make production and testing a priority for 2020 to allow us to champion the use of sustainable, high performing alternative infills to clients.
There has been some concern around the possible health risks of recycled rubber granules being used as infill in artificial turf pitches, with anecdotal fears around potential carcinogen exposure cited in a handful of notable articles in 2016.
In June 2016, the European Commission asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to evaluate the risk from recycled rubber to the general population, including children, professional players and workers installing or maintaining the pitches. ECHA undertook an evaluation of the possible health risks of recycled rubber granules used as infill in synthetic turf sports fields and found that “recycled rubber infill causes a very low level of concern”.
Of course, for any clients that are still concerned by this, we have the option to coat the SBR infill with a polyurethane plastic film, which prevents chemicals leaching out from rubber crumb. We recently constructed a FIFA and World Rugby standard artificial pitch at ACS Cobham School using this specialist infill coating.
This one ties in quite closely with problem #1, as it relates to the migration of infill materials away from the pitch, which is of course of concern when it comes to microplastics. Infill migration can occur through natural movement across the pitch, (where infill ‘spills’ off the side), through drainage and by being carried off the pitch on the boots and clothes of players. The issue with this is that it can then end up in the water supply, either through drainage or when players shower and wash their kit – or when someone washes it for them!
Our in-house design and planning department are actively implementing infill mitigation measures in line with Fidra guidelines, such as adding solid surfaces around the edge of pitches, introducing physical barriers, pitch drainage filters and brush off zones.
Fidra is a charity who shine a light on environmental issues, working with the public, industry and government to deliver pragmatic, evidence-based solutions for a healthy environment and sustainable societies. They have a project dedicated to artificial pitches, looking at the reduction of microplastics, infill migration and responsible pitch disposal.
Beyond the concerns around infill, another big question facing clients, contractors and manufacturers is: what happens to a pitch when it needs replacing?
Common end of life options for artificial turf are re-use, landfill, incineration and recycling. Landfill and incineration are the two concerning disposal methods, due to their impact on the environment, however incineration can now be used to generate energy itself, to offset some of that impact.
Rather than opt for landfill or incineration, our partners FieldTurf offer to remove clients’ old turf and repurpose this into new material, including their infill material ‘ProMax Hydroflex’ in a unique cradle to cradle concept. You can read more on this specialist infill from SAPCA’s article ‘FieldTurf creates eco-friendly infill for synthetic turf’. FieldTurf is 100% recyclable, and FieldTurf was the first company in the industry to remove entire artificial turf systems and recycle them.
Our mitigation methods, alternative infills, and partner recycling programmes are currently tackling the most pressing environmental challenges our industry and clients face. We will continue to monitor new developments and champion eco-friendly design, practice and removal in our work, in collaboration with our partners and in line with Fidra and governing body advice.
Beyond construction, we also strive to be environmentally friendly in other ways, such as our dedicated recycling points within our offices, running biofuel and integrating electric vehicles where possible across the business.