Last week’s announcement by the European Commission that it will recommend a ban on the sale of polymeric infill within six years and ignore the difference so-called risk management measures can make, has been met with disbelief and outright anger by some organisations in the industry.
The decision discussed here will, once adopted, after six years prohibit the placement onto the market of microplastics that are intentionally added to products.
“This decision makes no sense,” says Dr. Ettore Musacchi, President of the European Tyre Recycling Association (ETRA).
Back in the 90s, the introduction of third generation synthetic turf fields, and crumb rubber in particular, was hailed as a solution to the ever-growing problem of what to do with end-of-life tyres.
“It appears as if the ban has the sole aim to stop the sales of a cost effective and most competitive infill material rather than to actually reduce the releases of microplastics,” he says referring to the EC’s decision to remove the option for derogation via risk management methods. The EC considered this to not be viable to meet its reduced emissions objectives despite reports stating the opposite and despite efforts by the industry as well as governing bodies like FIFA and World Rugby to advocate the use of risk management measures.
“We think the Risk Management Measures are an excellent work. The measures have been well designed and communicated. The adoption of these as the EU standard as well as their inclusion in the handbook of FIFA and of World Rugby represented a correct approach. However, we are afraid that these norms were not sufficiently supported from a political point of view.” Here, Musacchi is referring to those who he feels, “followed an emotional approach but without any adequate technical competence, probably in order to satisfy a widespread fear and gather an easy, immediate, consensus, regardless of the effectiveness of the solution.”
With approximately 4,200,000 tons of end-of-life tyres produced every year in Europe, which corresponds to roughly 8 kg per citizen, Musacchi fears that the ban on well-managed infill will simply displace very large ELT tonnages to disposal routes lower down the waste hierarchy. The export to emerging economies in South East Asia in particular, where they are frequently treated as a low grade fuel source and burned in environmentally damaging ways, he calls worrisome.
“Losing the artificial turf market would be a major blow for the industry and the environment. Developing a material or a product from recycling is a slow process. It requires years of efforts. A shortsighted mistake can frustrate it and push us back of 20 years.”
The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC), the custodian of the synthetic turf industry in the EMEA region, issued a statement claiming it was pleased by the fact that facility owners and operators will not be burdened with retrospective actions like the installation of risk management measures to existing fields.
The ESTC also points out that current surfaces are expected to be usable for at least 10 years. If the European Commission decides to stick to its timeline of six years, the ESTC fears that many existing fields may struggle to achieve their full-service life due to an inability to purchase the materials required for on-going maintenance. “This will force communities, schools and sports clubs to either replace their surfaces prematurely or risk deteriorations in the quality and safety of their fields,” the statement reads.
If it were up to the ESTC, a transition period of at least 10 years should be pursued. “This is to enable those that have recently invested in new fields to obtain the full operational life they anticipated.”
Clarity by the end of the year
According to the European Tyre and Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA), a dedicated REACH Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed restrictions on 23 September. ETRMA told the European Rubber Journal this when they asked ETRMA for comment.
This committee will be composed of representatives of EU member states and be chaired by the European Commission, the industry association explained.
“This very next meeting of the REACH Committee is the first time the topic is on the agenda, to be debated and then followed by discussions, scheduled for 26-27 October, ahead of a World Trade Organisation notification regarding the restrictions.”
The final stage in the regulatory approval process will be a discussion on 13-14 December, followed by a vote, the ETRMA statement concluded.