Concerns have been raised internationally over the potential environmental impacts from small microplastic fibres used as infill on artificial sports pitches - with estimates of between 60 and 120 tonnes of the material required for one pitch alone.
The material - known as crumb rubber - is created from the shredding of recycled car tyres, and has been highlighted as one of the solutions to tackle Ireland’s chronic waste tyre problem with millions of tyres dumped or going to landfill every year until recently.
Today, 10,000 tonnes are recycled and ground up for use on synthetic pitches throughout Ireland, yet, research from the Netherlands found the material can “detrimentally affect biodiversity” close to playing fields, including leaching into subsoil and drainage water.
There is also concern about how astroturf pitches are replacing amenity grassland used by various species including the vulnerable Brent geese. Conservation groups raised concerns in 2018 over the potential impact on the species from Dublin City University’s plans to build a new artificial GAA pitch in St Patrick’s College.
The pitches can also block access to soil for burrowing insects like solitary bees and access to the ground above for worms and other insects at a time when vital insect species are in decline.
Studies from Denmark and Sweden have also raised concern that tons of the material is lost from pitches every year and must be continuously replaced, requiring further demand for tyres to produce the material.
HELP US INVESTIGATE
We want to analyse international studies on the potential impacts of crumb rubber on biodiversity, the wider environment and human health and investigate what research, if any, authorities have carried out in Ireland.
We also want to examine planning records to map out the number of synthetic pitches currently in place county by county.
We will examine if more eco-friendly and safe alternatives are available to the use of crumb rubber that could be rolled out in Ireland in the future.
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