FIFA Questions Environmental Impact of Turf

22nd June 2017

FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) has published new guidance written by Eunomia that reviews the environmental impact of different types of artificial turf before making best practice recommendations based on feasibility and cost.

The report highlights that recycling of artificial football turf is not widespread, and with over 3,000 FIFA certified pitches in 149 countries, and an increasing number of field replacements necessary, there is growing need to address what happens to these pitches at the end of their life.

With a variety of products on the market, FIFA commissioned the study to better understand the environmental impacts of producing, removing and disposing of each product whilst looking at opportunities for recycling and reuse.

Federico Addiechi, Head of Sustainability at FIFA said:

“FIFA believes we all have a responsibility to protect, cherish and limit our impact on the environment. We take this responsibility seriously and have been engaging with experts to find sensible ways of addressing environmental issues linked to our activities, including climate change and waste accumulation. With the environmental impact study in hand we have a better understanding of the impacts of artificial turf, which will help us, our key stakeholders and hopefully the industry to develop more effective mitigation measures for both end-of-life solutions and future pre-emptive design.”

Recommendations made in the guidance document are based on feasibility and cost for the countries and regions covered but the authors highlight the following best practice guidelines; Shock pads should be included and reused to reduce the volume of infill needed by 50–60% and organic infill such as cork was found to be an environmentally suitable alternative to plastic infills, with wider benefits available both environmentally and socially for Mediterranean countries that rely on cork farming.

The research suggests that technologies to recycle turf are still being developed, but there are facilities available in Europe. It goes on to show that there is little justification for Western European pitches not to be recycled, with their close proximity to new recycling facilities, and given the expensive costs attached to incineration. In other parts of the world where facilities are less accessible, waste disposal is less strict and cheaper, it’s less likely pitches will be recycled.

The report also shows that many thousands of tonnes of the recycled rubber crumb infill used in the majority of artificial turf pitches are lost to the environment each year, adding to the growing problem of marine plastic pollution.

Eunomia Consultant and Project Manager, Simon Hann said:

“It is fantastic to see FIFA taking the lead on this important issue. With the popularity of artificial turf continuing to grow due to the associated health and social benefits of all year round pitch use it is an important time to highlight key choices that can be made to improve their environmental impact. We have highlighted the increasing concern that there are very few credible recycling routes and as, annually, over 2 million tonnes of artificial turf are predicted to need disposal worldwide by 2020, recyclers, manufacturers and pitch owners must work together to make sure their disposal is not an environmental disaster.”