Despite the European Commission’s proposed requirements for biodegradable polymeric infill, the concept of biodegradable synthetic turf top layers has by no means been abandoned. The Dutch Sustainable Sports Sector Innovation Platform recently even used the concept as a point of departure for a brainstorming session about the sports field of the future.
Biodegradable synthetic turf is considered the holy grail of the sports field market. Once approved by the competent authorities, they provide an answer to the desire to use less virgin raw materials and as a solution to prevent microplastic pollution.
The first biodegradable synthetic turf components have been around for years. However, they have experienced a threshold now that the European Commission is threatening to adopt the same requirements for the degradability of these products as they do for cosmetic products. Those requirements are not realistic for sports fields in view of the required functionality during their service life. Member of the European Parliament, Jan Huitema, therefore advocates linking those requirements to the functional period.
The Sustainable Sports Sector Innovation Platform also still sees a future for this type of product, in addition to the need to reduce the use of virgin raw materials. “You shouldn’t reason from waste, but pursue a line of thinking in which it is seen as a resource,” Richard Migchielsen explains on behalf of the platform.
Industry, municipalities and government were invited to a brainstorming session about the synthetic turf of the future.
The platform facilitates the process towards a circular, non-fill, biodegradable synthetic turf field. “When municipalities, the market, educational and knowledge institutions band together, this should make it possible to achieve this. By joining forces, we can make an impact together.”
The meeting was attended by, among others, Senbis Polymer Innovations. At the end of last year, the manufacturer of biodegradable products from Emmen, the Netherlands, launched the world’s first biodegradable synthetic turf pitch. René van Bremen of Senbis considers the meeting to be encouraging.
“Biodegradable synthetic turf is a relatively young product and it is still unknown territory for most authorities. Technically speaking, almost anything is possible, but you can see that the market and the authorities are still searching, now that the environment is becoming increasingly important. A meeting like this is very useful for us to understand those wishes even better.”
Van Bremen therefore expects that forums such as this one will help the market and industry to find a common way.
“Although our biodegradable synthetic turf based on a biopolymer has now passed laboratory tests and is being tested in a live environment, the technology is still in its infancy. As has been said, forums like this help us with further development. In addition, they offer the market and authorities an opportunity to better understand the products and technical possibilities. That is why we remain positive that the guidelines that governments will soon impose on us for synthetic turf will be much more realistic than currently proposed for biodegradable polymeric infills.”
Agenda item at municipalities
About 30 participants, including several municipalities, took part in the meeting. One of these was the municipality of Sittard-Geleen. “The subject of synthetic turf and microplastic pollution is on the agenda of the municipality of Sittard-Geleen,” the municipality said. “We are in an exploratory phase to see what alternatives there are and how we as a municipality can act on this. Attending the meeting on biodegradable synthetic turf is part of this exploratory phase.”
The Sustainable Sports Sector Innovation Platform will now meet one-on-one with the municipalities to clarify the need and then offer various suppliers of synthetic turf systems the opportunity to show what solutions or innovations they have. “After that, we want to develop the innovations together with municipalities and companies that are members of the platform,” notes Migchielsen. This group consists of 13 large municipalities. In addition to the municipalities of Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, these include the municipality of Haarlem, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Leeuwarden, Eindhoven, Leiden and the Central Government Real Estate Agency.