Have Your Say - Synthetic Turf

The NSW Government has recently published its ‘Draft Guidelines for Decision Makers’ regarding ‘Synthetic Turf in Public Open Spaces’.  The draft guidelines are on exhibition for public comment until 29th April 2024.   We encourage you to have your say on this important issue that affects us all.

Click on the following link to view the NSW draft guidelines for Synthetic Turf in Public Open Spaces and to make your submission.

Ideas for inclusion in your submission:

 1. The synthetic turf industry in Australia must be regulated.  For example:

a. The materials used in synthetic turf manufacture must have MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets).  This is particularly important because synthetic turf often contains ‘forever’ chemicals.

b. Any proposal to install synthetic turf must include an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)

c.  Existing fields must be monitored to ensure regular maintenance is carried out.

2. The draft guidelines are too vague. 

a. The guidelines must start with a clear decision-making flowchart so that decision-makers do not have to wade through the whole report to discover their site is unsuitable.

b. If a field is located in a bushfire or flood prone area, or in a drinking water catchment, it is too weak to suggest ‘reconsidering’ the use of synthetic turf.  Synthetic turf must be banned from these areas.

c.  If a field is to be used during the day by young children or the elderly, synthetic turf may cause dangerous heat stress and must not be used.

d. The guidelines must include data showing specific surface temperatures of synthetic grass on sunny days when the ambient temperature is between, say, 15°-35°C.  It is too vague to simply describe it as ‘significantly hotter’ than natural grass.  Decision-makers must be made aware that ‘hot’ can mean over 80°C.

3. There must be guidelines for public funding which ensure equal access for synthetic turf and natural grass.  Councils should not be encouraged to install synthetic grass simply because funding is only available for that purpose.

4. In spite of the serious drawbacks of synthetic turf fields, the guidelines appear to be biased against natural grass.

a. Decision-makers must be provided with details of installing best practice natural grass fields.

b. The NSW government is developing in parallel a best practice irrigation guideline for natural grass.  It is essential that decision-makers receive these guidelines as soon as possible.

c.  Many councils rely on being ‘informed’ and ‘trained’ by synthetic turf suppliers who run an aggressive marketing campaign.  The relative performance of synthetic turf compared to natural grass is grossly overstated and these guidelines do nothing to correct the imbalance.

d. The high performance of natural grass fields built to current best practice must be emphasised in these guidelines.  For instance, Penrith Council has consulted its own natural grass experts and is achieving at least 50 hours play per week on natural grass.

5. The guidelines must be applied to the renewal of existing synthetic turf fields

a. We already have many synthetic turf fields in unsuitable locations.  They must be reassessed (see point 2. above), including an EIS, before the surface is renewed.

6. The long-term health impacts of synthetic turf are unknown.  We must adopt the precautionary principle and have a moratorium on new and replacement synthetic turf fields while more data is collected.

a. Existing synthetic turf fields are already releasing tonnes of micro and nano-plastics into our waterways, which find their way into our food chain and have a cumulative effect.

b. Loose infill material can pose a risk through ingestion, lodgement, inhalation and skin contact.

We are very concerned that although the document discusses many of the serious drawbacks of synthetic turf, such as pollution, heat, health impacts, bushfire and flood risks, loss of informal recreational space etc, it fails to reach the logical conclusion that best practice natural grass solutions should always be the first preference.  The synthetic turf industry is unregulated in Australia, and it appears that aggressive marketing tactics from manufacturers has led to an increased uptake of synthetic fields in NSW.  The high performance of best practice natural grass is often overlooked.