A war of words has broken out between companies specialising in the recycling and reclamation of All Weather Pitches.
Every year across the UK, hundreds of old synthetic surfaces are removed and replaced by newer ones – a trend set to escalate as Sport England and The FA continue to invest heavily.
Companies carrying out the process agree that much of the used material – carpet, sand and crumb rubber infill – can be reclaimed for reuse.
They cannot agree, however, on precisely how this should be done.
The row centres on whether the work should take place on or off site. Those in favour of on-site reclamation say it is more environmentally-friendly and gives customers residual values that in turn save them money on a new installation.
Off-site supporters claim materials reclaimed on site cannot be adequately cleaned and should be regarded as waste.
Tim Gallagher, director of Surrey-based Xtraction, said: 'We believe on-site processing is by far the best option for our clients.
'Our equipment is very effective at removing infill, so much so that we recently recovered 156 tons from a playing surface at a school in Redbridge, London.
'Reusing that infill saved them more than £16,000 on the new pitch, plus the official land fill charges for such materials were avoided so they were delighted. The environment benefitted too – we estimate up to 19 lorries would have been needed for off-site reclamation notching up 2,000 haulage miles.
'So our method not only saved the client money, it improved their carbon footprint too – and that’s good news for the environment.'
However, the Xtraction approach has come under fire from firms who have invested heavely in off-site processing.
Luke Edwards, commercial director of Murfitts Industries in Suffolk, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of crumb rubber, said: 'According to the current England and Wales Waste Regulations (2011) old infill is classified as waste, so you can’t just put it back without treating it.
'No one is saying it can’t be reused, but it has to be properly cleaned first and that can only be done off-site.
'An old surface can contain all sorts of contaminants and foreign material, such as dust and detritus, coins, hairpins and chewing gum – anything that can be taken onto the field of play.
'In order for the old infill to come out of the waste stream and be re-used, all of the contaminants should be removed and the material cleaned.'
Mr Edwards also argues that a permit would be required from the Environment Agency in order to process untreated infill on-site.
He added: 'It’s simply not practical to have permits in place for waste processing at individual playing fields all over the UK.'
Another company specialising in off-site recycling is Denmark’s Re-Match, which aims to open a facility in the UK in 2016.
Its director for business development, Dennis Andersen, said: 'Our method enables us to separate and clean all the components, leaving us with 99.95% pure rubber and 99.7% pure sand.
'That cannot be achieved with on-site processing. In my view, what Xtraction is doing is not recycling – it is repurposing.
'And because they cannot verify the cleanliness of the infill they remove, I believe it should be treated as waste.
'I would also argue that reusing infill that has not been cleaned could invalidate a manufacturer’s warranty on a new surface.'
However, Tim Gallagher hit back at claims that used infill is 'waste'.
He said: 'We thoroughly clean playing surfaces before any material is removed and random sampling of infill is untaken by an independent UKAS test house for analysis who in turn produce reports that verify the condition of the infill.
'We accept that, in some cases, infill will not be fit for reuse within a sports carpet and this would be highlighted within an independent UKAS report – but to say that all infill removed on site is waste without any objective analysis is a flawed argument.
'Clients could end up giving away valuable material that could have saved them money.'
Mr Gallagher added that Xtraction was so confident of its process it would underwrite any warranty concerns in relation to the infill it reclaims and that a number of carpet manufacturers were coming on board as this solution made economic and environmental sense.
As the debate rumbles on, the Environment Agency has yet to make its stance clear. Despite repeated requests for a comment in relation to environmental concerns about artificial surfaces that are coming to their ‘end of life’, the agency failed to respond.
However, Mark Pover, the Football Association’s national facilities and investment manager, commented: 'We are still exploring all the issues associated with this because it is relatively new and there are quite a few companies who all have different approaches to the matter.
'The companies on 3G framework and the governing bodies are all keen to make sure that carpets are reused, recycled or disposed in the correct way and we have already ensured that nothing goes to landfill.
'It is important to also have complete transparency and traceability throughout the process and this is proving the difficult part.'
Mr Pover added that discussions were ongoing and that he hoped the FA would be in a better position to comment in more detail in a few months.