Stokes Synthetic Fields Report – A missed opportunity to protect Sydney from a social and environmental menace

The NSW Government has a responsibility to ensure the community has access to quality playing fields that are accessible to the whole community, represent taxpayer value for money and do not result in major environmental damage.

Minister for Planning and Open Spaces Rob Stokes today released a report into the contentious issue of synthetic turf (CLICK HERE). However, the Natural Turf Alliance (NTA) a grassroots movement giving voice to a growing community opposition across Sydney, believes more action is needed.

“The report does not achieve the urgent and necessary changes that hundreds of people called for in their submissions to the inquiry” says NTA spokesperson Garnett Brownbill.

“Most disappointing is the lack of requirement for a DA to be mandatory for every new synthetic installation so that environmental impacts are properly assessed. This is surprising given that this was voiced by so many groups involved in the workshops”.   

There are far more economical alternatives to synthetics that community groups are calling for – New Generation natural turf fields that rely on modern grass cultivars and soil science to provide increased usage soccer clubs require.  These fields have been built in Sydney over the past 8 years but the report ignored these examples, calling them “unproven’ with no evidence to back the claim.

It also consistently holds up hope for unproven 4G synthetic turf and downplays improvements from New Generation natural turf.

The report points to advances in 4G and cork infill synthetic fields being more environmentally friendly but fails to provide any evidence to back this claim – comprehensively failing to address microplastics from the degradation of the plastic yarn and heating impacts.

“Natural turf fields play a critical role in cooling cities while even the newest synthetic fields act as urban heat islands that increase carbon emissions and produce tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste”, said Mr Brownbill.

“Councils will continue to increase their carbon footprint by converting numerous fields in their LGA’s which are too hot to use in the summer and limit access for families, children and locals with genuine open green space.”

Specifically, the NTA calls on the NSW Government to:

  1. Require DA’s for all new synthetic fields so that environmental impacts can be adequately assessed.
  • End NSW Government Grants for councils that tie local oval upgrades to synthetic ovals over modern natural turf alternatives.
  • No longer include synthetic ovals in targets for increasing open green space.
  • Limit the number of synthetic fields installed in LGAs due to climate implications of cumulative synthetic fields.
  • Force Councils who have installed synthetic fields with rubber-tyre infills to retrofit them with filters that stop plastic pollution currently entering Sydney’s waterways.
  • Commit to an Australian study into impacts of synthetic fields so that policy making is led by science rather that strategy documents produced by the synthetic turf industry.

“Allowing councils to keep on converting their ovals contradicts the NSW Government’s “Greening our City” targets, its various urban cooling initiatives, not to mention Minister Kean’s “plastics plan and waste strategy” added Garnett Brownbill.

Reining in the spread would be a very good start if NSW is to be a leader in protecting our environment, reducing waste and maximising recycling”.