On 25th September 2023, the European Commission took a major step to protect the environment by adopting measures that restrict microplastics intentionally added to products under the European Union chemical legislation REACH. The new rules will prohibit the sale of microplastics, and of products to which microplastics have been added. The new rules will apply following an eight-year transition period, which ends in October 2031. A European Commission press release can be read here.

Microplastics are defined as non-biodegradable polymeric materials that are 5mm or less in size. Polymeric materials (which includes synthetic carpet fibres and rubber infill used on synthetic playing surfaces) meet the definition of an intentionally added microplastic. Subsequently, these new rules present a significant challenge for playing pitches across Europe and within the United Kingdom.

As a result of the Windsor Framework, Northern Ireland remains subject to these EU rules. Sport NI is committed to these rules, and we endeavour to work with our partners and stakeholders from across Europe and within the United Kingdom to share information and guidance relevant to the sector.

To share what information we know so far, Sport NI has published an Information Paper and a Position Statement. Both can be read in full by clicking on the image below:

Microplastics Image

What does this mean for playing pitches?

The EU ruling does not prevent the use of micro-plastic material for synthetic surfaces, nor does it prevent the construction of new surfaces with rubber infill before 2031 – but it will make the maintenance of those surfaces significantly challenging once the transition period has ended. Furthermore, the EU rules has not made rubber infill unlawful after the transition period has ended. However, the rules (and future ban of the sale of rubber infills) are designed to push the sector towards organic infills, which are believed to be more environmentally sustainable.

Can anything be done to reduce microplastic pollution?

The Sport & Play Construction Association (SAPCA) and European Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC) have developed technical reports describing procedures that can be used to control rubber infill migration. These controls have been found to reduce microplastic pollution by up to 98%.

For further information on the EU rules and how they will impact on Northern Ireland, please read Sport NI’s Information Paper and Position Statement which can be found here.