Joint statement from us, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), sportscotland, Sport Wales, the Grounds Management Association, Football Foundation, The Football Association, Rugby Football League, Sports and Play Construction Association and England Rugby.
Artificial grass pitches (AGPs) are recognised as a durable, safe, year-round playing surfaces, able to withstand intensive use and all kinds of weather. The pitches are used for playing multiple sports including football, hockey and rugby and they are an important community resource that mean more people can benefit from the social and health benefits of physical activity.
However, concerns have been raised about the environmental impact of these pitches. Most commonly this relates to the fibre loss of microplastics and; in the case of third generation or 3G pitches, the presence of rubber infill, which is also a microplastic. We understand these concerns and are taking them very seriously.
We are aware of potential developments in the EU following the European Commission’s statement (released in September 2022) which recommended the introduction of a ban on the future sale of ‘intentionally added microplastics’ onto the European market, which includes rubber infill for 3G AGPs. The Commission proposed a six-year transition period before the new restriction becomes effective, although the timing for it to become law has not yet been made clear. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the regulatory framework for these matters now sits at a UK level (except for Northern Ireland, which will continue to follow EU REACH requirements).
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) commissioned an evidence project, under the UK REACH 2022/23 Work Programme, to review emissions of intentionally added microplastics. It will consider the risks they pose to human health and the environment and include a socio-economic assessment. The project will include rubber infill and will inform any future regulatory actions in the UK.
The Sports Councils – Sport England, Sport Wales, sportscotland, Sport NI – and leading sport bodies are working together and with respective governments to understand what the EU ban will mean for the stock of 3G AGPs in the UK and the timings for any legislative decisions.
If the EU law on a ban is passed, it will be important to have a transition period because 3G AGPs are in widespread use by communities across Europe, were costly to put in place, and will be to remove. It is also important to note that there are currently no widely available alternative infill products on the market that are as effective, suitable for all weather conditions and deliver the required performance standards. That is why we are also committed to exploring alternative artificial pitch systems and more sustainable infill products. We will continue to work with partners across the UK and Europe to research and reduce the spread of microplastics into the environment.
More information will be published as discussions progress.