If 3G synthetic turf wants to survive the debate on environmental pollution, the design of this type of field must change drastically. Here are some elements field designers can consider.
It doesn’t matter whether you personally agree or disagree with the arguments made by the environmental lobby that blames synthetic turf for polluting the environment. The truth of the matter is that synthetic turf is made of plastic, a material that is difficult to dissolve and can possibly become a health threat to both animals and human beings.
According to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), polymeric infill from third-generation synthetic turf fields is Europe’s single biggest source of microplastic pollution. That is before the tiny plastic fragments from worn yarn or the backing of synthetic turf carpets are added to the mix.
And if you accept the view of the Dutch authorities, that states that natural alternatives like coconut fibres or cork, which are alien to the Dutch environment, should also be viewed as a pollutant, even replacing polymeric infill with natural infills will not be sufficient to satisfy the Dutch anti-synthetic turf lobby.
Several companies and research organisations have studied the question of how much microplastics migrates out of a 3G pitch and the route the particles follow. Based on existing literature, Swedish consultancy firm estimated the loss of infill as follows:
|Infill carried to drains / catchment area
|15 kg / year
|Infill carried by maintenance brush / tractor
|239 kg / year
|Infill carried by shoes and clothes
|88 kg / year
|Infill carried to field sides
|12 – 250 kg / year
|Infill carried by snow removal
|433 kg / year
Industry players in Denmark recently announced their own study.
It would serve both the market and the industry for synthetic turf sports fields well if they would view a synthetic turf field as ‘a controlled area that takes ownership of its effects and influences.’
Instead of limiting the field design to ‘meeting the safety and performance requirements within the boundaries of the designated field and for the price and maintenance effort the buyer is willing to consider,’ the scope should be expanded by adding ‘minimal influence and disruption to any person, plant or animal living or appearing beyond the field boundaries.’
Here are some suggestions on how that can be achieved.
Reconsider the size and shape of the field
|Attributes like movable goals, cones or maintenance equipment can transfer plastic particles when they leave the field. Ideally, these items should never leave the field perimeter, meaning that each synthetic turf field should have sufficient space to, temporarily, store these items and equipment.
Synthetic turf fields in countries that can experience excessive rainfall or snow should have a large open space where excess water or snow that has been removed from the playing field can sit until it is absorbed in the subbase or drained naturally. Obviously, it is essential to fit filters to trap the plastic particles carried by the (melting) water.
Place concrete kerbs
|The outer edges of the field are usually finished with paving or concrete tiles. Tile manufacturers have developed special concrete tiles / slabs with a kerb that prevents the microplastics to migrate through the space underneath the boarding fitted to the fences.
Fit side boards around the field
|Infill or small plastic particles can migrate for many different reasons. Fitting side boards around the field will prevent these particles from leaving the perimeter. It is essential that these side boards sit perfectly on the concrete tile that surrounds the field. Ideally, the bottom of the side board is sunken into the tile, with the edge between the board and tile sealed. The height of the side board should be such that even splashing infill or particles carried by the wind are captured.
Adjust the entry and exit to the field
|Entry to the field should be limited strictly to players, coaching staff and officials, to prevent the unnecessary transfer of microplastics from infill or yarn stuck to flat-sole shoes or clothing items. The entrance should be fitted with a cattle-grid that catches the microplastics when the player steps onto the grid before leaving the field. Ideally, the grid would be extended to outside the field, while a threshold should be fitted that is high enough to force the player to actively lift his foot and plant it firmly on the grid on the other side of the field. In doing so, this will help the microscopic particles to come lose from the shoes and drop into the grid.
The same philosophy should be used for the entry and exit point that is used by maintenance machines. According to a study by a Swedish consultancy firm, maintenance equipment is to blame for being the single biggest unwitting transferer of microplastics. Items should be fitted that will help (automatically) clean the maintenance equipment once it leaves the field.
Add (boot) cleaning stations
|Make sure you have enough boot cleaning facilities at the entrance and exit of the field. Ideally, these stations should be placed on top of the grid that marks the entrance and exit of the field. This will help capture the microplastics that are brushed off.
Leave a (hand)brush near the exit of the field. The brush can be used to quickly clean kit or equipment that is taken off the field.
Please see to it that the brush itself is cleaned regularly and that it is always in good condition.
Place traps in strategic positions
Areas outside the field perimeter where build-up of microplastics can still occur should have a trap or filter to catch the particles before they wash away into the sewage system. These traps and filters should be inspected regularly, and, where needed, cleaned.
How much will this cost?
Costs associated with these interventions differ from project to project. EuRIC, the Confederation representing the interests of the European recycling industries at EU level, estimated the cost as follows for the various countries:
|GBP 14 per meter (+VAT)
|EUR 34 per meter
|Tarpaulin fitted to the fence
|EUR 130 per 6 meter
|(boot) cleaning station
|EUR 1,000 – EUR 1,500
|GBP 350 – GBP 380
|GBP 350 – GBP 400
|Filter system that surrounds the field
|EUR 30,000 for a full-size football pitch
|GBP 115 per meter
|Closed water system underlying construction, wells and filters, brushing station, grid and asphalt boarder with retaining wall
|GBP 42,000 – GBP 46,700
Will embracing this information solve the issue for me?
I once asked that question of an occupational health and safety specialist. Under the glare he gave me, I suddenly felt the urge to shrink to the size of a microplastic. “Safeguarding the health and safety of people, plants and animals requires that the possible risks are assessed and addressed continuously,” he lectured me.
The good thing about embracing the abovementioned ideas is that it will contribute to your legal safety. Only once you can prove that you have done everything within your capabilities to mitigate or limit a possible (negative) impact, you’ll be on the safe side in a legal dispute.