Soon, the European Commission will decide its approach towards microplastic pollution from synthetic turf pitches. It is anticipated that this will announce the end for conventional synthetic turf top layers. Biodegradable artificial grass and infill offer the same functionality. Moreover, their advantages exceed the current synthetic turf and infill.
The more than 35,000 third-generation synthetic turf pitches in Europe are mostly filled with polymeric infills which are considered to be spreading microplastics. In its wish to reduce this pollution by 400,000 tons over the next 20 years, the European Commission is therefore questioning the use of polymeric infill in synthetic turf football pitches. The consultants of the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) have advised the European Commission (EC) to either ban the sale of polymeric infill completely or oblige field owners to invest in risk management measures. Even if the EC were to choose the second option, the effectiveness of such measures will be reassessed every four years. Therefore, a total ban on the sale of polymeric infill remains a realistic option in the future in any case.
This attitude towards the use of polymeric infill is only the first step in a bigger plan. ECHA’s consultants have now also started mapping microplastic pollution caused by fibre wear. That is why it is only a matter of time before environmental pollution by the synthetic turf carpet itself will be questioned. Even non-filled systems, which many people see as the solution for microplastic pollution, will not be able to escape the discussion. With a pole-weight that is two to three times higher than current systems, fibre wear experienced by these carpets, as well as those for synthetic turf for hockey, tennis, korfball, handball or American Football fields, could also be deemed unacceptably high by the EU. Only an investment in synthetic turf and infill that directly, effectively and permanently answers the need to limit microplastic pollution from synthetic turf pitches, will be exempted from this discussion.
The bottomless pit called “sustainability”
Anyone who does not have the luxury of regularly delving into the market for synthetic turf systems quickly runs the risk of not being able to see the wood for the trees in the search for the right option. Now that society and authorities are calling for more “sustainability”, the number of claims, slogans and (false) flags is growing at an enormous rate. Even many professional consultants are no longer able to assess or validate all claims. What is sustainability? Where does it begin and where does it end? Which aspects do you take into consideration and how do you objectify these? Is it about CO2 footprint and/or about microplastic pollution and should we rate end-of-life or end-of-use higher? What must be weighted and what falls outside the definition used? The answer to this must largely come from the policy and vision defined by the authorities. However, experience has shown that, under the influence of the wide choice of products and unfamiliarity among buyers and many consultants, the EU obligation to pursue at least 50% sustainably produced products from 2030 and 100% by 2050 is still regularly measured with two standards. “Sustainability” is a catch-all term that, depending on the glasses chosen, always gives a rose coloured world view. It is too often forgotten that the environment is green and that we strive for a green society. You cannot achieve that by gently adjusting the dials for the current problem. The only solution to this is to think conceptually and take steps rigorously.
Artificial grass systems are complex composite systems in which the shape, performance and lifespan of each component has been worked out meticulously to give the buyer value for money. For a field to be able to guarantee the same, homogeneous performance over almost 9,000m2, time after time and for years in a row, it is important to rely on a component that has been produced specifically for the application instead of depending on the vagaries and partial vulnerabilities of natural components.
Senbis Polymer Innovations is a Dutch specialist in biopolymers and has been developing and producing biodegradable products and components for complex applications and systems for many years. Encouraged by the exposure by the Dutch TV programme Zembla about the (lack of recyclability of, and the health and environmental pollution problems caused by synthetic turf and its infill, Senbis launched GreenFill in 2017. This is the first infill made entirely from biodegradable polymers also offering the athletes the desired stability and comfort. In addition, it complies with ISO17556, the international standard that determines the biodegradability of a substance under soil conditions.
GreenFill that ends up in the environment is converted into water, humus and CO2 by micro-organic activity, after which it completely and permanently disappears. GreenFill is also easily recyclable.
GreenMaxx: Now also biodegradable fibre
GreenFill is now used in various synthetic grass pitches throughout the Netherlands, much to the satisfaction of players, club officials and municipal officers. Their concerns about microplastic pollution from infill is a thing of the past. Now that GreenFill’s performance and sustainability have proven themselves, Senbis uses this knowledge to develop a fully biodegradable synthetic turf system. Together with partners TenCate Grass Group, Antea Group, Edel Grass and Sweco, we are currently working hard on developing Greenmaxx. The fibre as well as the backing and adhesive for this synthetic turf carpet are fully biodegradable. Fibre wear will be converted into natural components instead of becoming a microplastic pollutant. Furthermore, it will also make live easier for the synthetic turf recycling companies as they no longer have to separate the indivudal components of the carpet. The feedback currently received will help Senbis to optimize the biodegradable synthetic turf yarns and to prepare for large-scale production together with its partners. This is the way Senbis is now laying the foundation for the synthetic turf of the future.
GreenFill and Greenmaxx infill and synthetic turf enable municipalities to immediately make incremental progress towards achieving the final goal of a 100% sustainable society. Municipalities that already want to excel at the first measuring point in 2030 can now stop making slight adjustments to the dial of depreciated systems. They are able to embrace a new concept, through which, based on new aims and standards, they can continue to expand for a long time into the future.