The answer I give is not precise, as each pitch is unique; it has different levels of usage, maintenance varies and local conditions often play a part. Generally, good quality synthetic turf should play to the appropriate standards for 40 hours a week for 8 years, based on correct usage and maintenance. After this the pitch may still continue to perform for some years but expect a drop off in its quality. Some surfaces have lasted over 15 years, but by that stage there are plenty of tell tale signs that the pitch has passed its shelf life.
Warning signs include seams opening up, drainage not working and fibre coming out. In some cases, the fibre can be worn away completely, especially in heavily used areas. But why wait until your pitch has reached this stage of distress?
If a pitch is regularly maintained, and is inspected or tested annually, it should be possible to predict when a field’s performance starts to dip. At this stage plans should be put into place to replace the surface. And if the pitch was installed over a good shockpad and base, the replacement cost is restricted to just the surface.
The process of replacing a surface
The existing surface can be removed in different ways. The first question should be, “Can any part of the current pitch be reused?”
If the answer is yes, then the infill material would be extracted out. For old hockey fields it is unlikely the sand can be reused in another synthetic turf pitch, but it can be used on natural grass fields, and if the school’s groundsman doesn’t want it then a local golf club will most likely take it. If it is an old 3G surface, then the rubber infill has value and can be taken out, cleansed and reused. Again, the sand from an old 3G is harder to reuse in a new surface.
The carpet is now much lighter and can be cut into strips ready for reuse or disposal. The strips are rolled up and stacked ready for disposal. Often old synthetic turf is used for walkways, and occasionally re-laid in smaller sports areas. It can be recycled but currently the transport costs make this an expensive exercise. Synthetic turf can be converted back into a low grade plastic, converted into energy through burning in kilns or can be disposed of in landfill.
If there is no value in the synthetic turf, and extraction is not a viable consideration the turf will be lifted, complete with infill and disposed of. There are companies who will take the turf in this way and find alternative uses for it, such as in equestrian areas. Often very old turf will be taken to landfill.
The synthetic turf industry has working groups monitoring recycling and disposal options, whilst specialist companies are currently looking for commercial solutions to re-use turf. With tighter environmental regulations coming in there now has to be a record of where and how waste is disposed, ensuring companies are compliant with regulations and pitch owners can ensure their pitch is disposed of correctly.
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