The increasing popularity of synthetic sports fields is fuelling the growth of an Auckland recycling firm.

Takanini-based Pacific Rubber converts waste tyres into rubber "crumbs" - a key ingredient of all-weather sports grounds.

The company says it has enjoyed annual sales growth of 500 per cent in the past three years, with its products used in the construction of 25 synthetic rugby, soccer, hockey and baseball fields across New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia.

Four thousand tonnes of old tyres, which would have otherwise gone to landfill, were recycled by the firm last year.


Co-founder Andrew Christie, who has a background in investment banking, returned to New Zealand from Britain at the height of the global financial crisis with the goal of acquiring a distressed firm with good turnaround prospects and export potential.

"There was a lot of panic," said the 35-year-old Christie. "Assets were cheap, so it was a good time to take the plunge into business ownership."

Together with engineers Stuart Monteith and Owen Young, he established Pacific Rubber in 2008 after buying two struggling tyre collection firms and importing and commissioning a recycling facility.

At that time, synthetic sports fields were "sprouting up everywhere" and it was obvious that a solid business opportunity existed, Christie said.

Wellington was leading the charge in the creation of all-weather pitches, he said, but strong growth was also expected in Auckland as a result of the council's plan to upgrade sports facilities through a major development plan over the next decade.

Central Auckland's St Peter's College recently constructed an all-weather pitch which used 250 tonnes of rubber derived from 28,000 waste tyres, according to Pacific Rubber.

A proposal to upgrade the mixed grass and plastic field at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr stadium to full synthetic turf met with a warning from an event management firm last week, which said such a pitch could make it harder for the city to attract All Black matches, the Otago Daily Times reported.

Christie said there were many other applications for recycled rubber including road construction, where "rubberised bitumen" was commonly used in the United States, Europe and Australia. "We're just about to send our first shipment of rubber across to Australia."