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NSW Planning Minister to investigate alternatives to synthetic grass

NSW Planning Minister to investigate alternatives to synthetic grass
April 15, 2021

Campaigns by community groups objecting to synthetic grass installations at sportsfields has led NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces Rob Stokes to prompt his department to investigate sustainable alternatives to synthetic grass.

Backed by reports in the Sydney Morning Herald, community groups in several parts of Sydney are objecting to local governments replacing natural grass sports fields artificial turf playing surfaces.

Critics say synthetic fields cause rubber and microplastics to leach into waterways; reduce the amenity for families and dog owners; potentially increase cancer risk through the chemicals used to make them; and cause unsustainably high temperatures near and on these fields on hot days.

Reacting to concerns about the environmental and health impacts of synthetic grass, Minister Stokes has stated “I am sufficiently concerned about the environmental impacts ... and will ask the Department to examine what alternative technologies or techniques exist to maximise the use of community sporting facilities without hurting our environment.”

Meeting the demand for increased access to sports fields and with artificial turf playing surfaces having drought resistant qualities, an increasing number of synthetic grass fields have been installed in metropolitan areas across Australia over the past decade.

While citing environmental and health concerns, objections to the increased use of sports fields with artificial surfaces is often behind residents moves to discredit their installation.

A recent Sydney Morning Herald article referenced how temperatures on synthetic grass can be “more than twice as high as on a grass playing field” on hot days.

It also referenced a study by Dr Sebastian Pfautsch of Western Sydney University which found temperatures on a softfall synthetic play area surface reached 106 degrees in western Sydney during a heatwave in January 2018.

Dr Pfautsch who specialises on the impact of rising temperatures in urban environments, told the Sydney Morning Herald “I absolutely loathe synthetic grass.

“It is possibly the worst materials for heat and it is made from completely unsustainable, non-recyclable plastic that goes straight to landfill.”

New research by the Australian Microplastic Assessment Project (AUSMAP) with Northern Beaches Council, funded by NSW’s Environment Protection Authority, has found 80% of the waste entering stormwater drains adjacent to sports fields with synthetic surfaces was black crumb (recycled tyres used for the base of these fields) and microplastics from artificial turf - compared to 5% in areas without these playing fields.

AUSMAP Director of Research Dr Scott Wilson said they were “definitely finding a proliferation of the crumb and some grass” particularly when many games had been played and after wet or windy weather.

Minister Stokes said it was a council issue whether they use a synthetic surface for sporting fields, noting that “we do understand there are some community concerns about ambient heat and environmental impacts from microplastics.”

SportEng: Synthetic grass is a solution to urban densification
In response, Jarrod Hill, Chief Executive and Director of sport and recreation facility civil engineers SportEng, wrote in a Blog,  entitled ‘Synthetic grass is a solution to urban densification’, that certified synthetic grass systems “provide a higher level of use (in excess of 60 hours/week) than natural turf (up to 30-35 hours/week); and is tested in laboratories to ensure the surface is fit for purpose all year round; rain, hail or shine (yes they can be hotter than natural turf on hot days however there are different infills and adjustment to surrounding landscape to help reduce the heat factors).”

Hill, acknowledged as a leading ‘field of play’ designer, went on to state that synthetic grass systems “can be designed and maintained to be a closed system which mitigates microplastic displacement.”

Explaining the motivations for the use of synthetic grass, Hill explained “urban densification not only negatively impacts our transport networks, it also places some of our existing fields of play under unsustainable stress and strain. We have enabled urban densification to occur and therefore more and more people are living in homes with small to no backyards and they rely on Council sports grounds for their kids to be active outdoors.

“Inner city councils generally cannot find large parcels of unused land to construct additional sport fields to meet the demand caused by densification. In many cases the use of synthetic grass is a means to meet this demand. If you ask most of the sport governing bodies, in particular AFL and soccer, they are still not meeting these demands due to population growth and densification and kids specifically are being turned away as there are not enough grounds to play on.”

Noting the environmental and health concerns, Hill added “Australia is not the only country that has raised concerns relating to the use of synthetic grass. There are many scientific reports that have concluded that synthetic grasses do not lead to any health issues.

“Appropriate designs and maintenance regimes can help to mitigate microplastic displacement from the surface and protect downstream waterways.

“If you have assessed your natural turf sports ground and determined that even with a better performing growing medium and more efficient drainage and irrigation network it cannot meet the demands of the users then, short of telling the community they cannot be active, synthetic grass is your only option.”

Click here to read Jarrod Hill's Blog on the SportEng website.

Related Articles

11th February 2021 - City of Sydney invests in five synthetic sports fields for extended hour usage

31st January 2021 - Installation completed on Arndell Park’s FIFA Quality synthetic surface

3rd September 2020 - Living turf crucial for mitigating ‘urban heat island’ effects

7th July 2020 - Parramatta Council unveils its new synthetic sports field at Rydalmere Park

2nd March 2020 - Melbourne court awards $240,000 to teenager underpaid by synthetic grass installer

10th December 2019 - Synthetic Grass and Rubber Surfaces launches scheme to recycle old playground rubber surfaces

1st November 2019 - STRI and Surface Performance collaborate to improve artificial sports surfaces

31st October 2019 - City of Sydney to add artificial turf surfaces at three sports fields

29th August 2019 - Sydney’s Northern Beaches Council opens latest artificial turf development

20th January 2019 - Western Sydney University scientist creates star rating for playground heat performance

16th July 2018 - Work begins on Wollongong City Council’s first artificial turf sports fields

8th March 2018 - SPORTENG launch Brisbane office headed by Marke Jennings-Temple

24th January 2018 - Sydney Swans put artificial turf to the test in pre-season training

9th December 2016 - ASTM International standard for artificial turf infill

8th September 2016 - Revolutionary stabilisation method for artificial turf and hybrid fields set for Australian launch

26th August 2016 - New artificial turf oval opens in Cranbourne

11th June 2016 - Football West looks to multiple artificial turf installations

11th May 2016 - New Zealand study into children’s rugby injuries on artificial turf

20th January 2015 - Turf Australia warns Councils against ‘faking it’ for sporting grounds

2nd December 2014 - Innovative cooling system to reduce artificial turf temperatures

23rd January 2012 - Artificial turf beat up fails to highlight alternatives

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