The transition to new materials the world has to make in drive to become more sustainable, comes with the challenge of defining new parameters and perimeters. It is also a journey that requires extensive research and multiple trials to painstakingly overcome each new hurdle that tends to appear. History is littered with inventions that experienced a bumpy road or required time or a changing mindset before they were finally accepted. Take, for example, the invention of the wheel. First invented around 3500 BC to facilitate pottery, it took another 1900 years before somebody valued its contribution to the improvement of transporting goods. Penicillin is another example of a product produced in a scientific study of which the results had officially been discarded before it was discovered that they actually had produced something much more valuable than initially intended.
More sustainable artificial turf
Greenfill is currently in the same position. It was developed in response to the endeavour by the European Union to facilitate an active and healthy society but not at the expense of the environment. Greenfill uses a 100% biodegradable polymer as base material. Contrary to the standard, polymeric infill that is being used in many long-pile artificial turf systems, Greenfill doesn’t pollute the environment. It dissolves in soil within two years and its degradational behaviour is similar to the biodegradable polymers that are being used for supplements and stimulants used in the agricultural industry. This biodegradability has been validated by testing institute TÜV Austria which has issued Greenfill the TÜV Austria OK Biodegradable certificate. That is why it is allowed to use the infill in third generation artificial turf systems without the need for investing in risk management measures as is currently being advocated for artificial turf fields with polymeric infill.
Nevertheless, albeit the polymer it uses is 100% biodegradable, European authorities have classified Greenfill as another polymer-based infill. As it stands, the sale of this type of infills will likely be prohibited as of 2029 when the European Commission will the ban the placement onto the market of intentionally added microplastics in an attempt to protect the environment from microplastic pollution.
Derogation is possible
The attitude by the European Commission towards biodegradable polymers used in the agricultural and horticultural markets shows that the authorities are certainly willing to accept biodegradable polymers. They are even willing to go soft on some of the products that will not be able to fully comply with the new norm. For biodegradable polymers used for long-term application like in the agricultural and horticultural markets they will accept the functional period for the product. However, being of the view that microplastics from third generation artificial turf surfaces are the biggest contributors to environmental pollution of all applications for intentionally added microplastics, the European authorities have decided to group Greenfill with microplastics used in short-term applications like in cosmetics. Together with the applicable industry bodies, Senbis has now approached the competent authorities to state the case that this grouping should be adjusted and that Greenfill should be rated based on its long-term application. This as most investments in artificial turf sports surfaces are depreciated over a period of at least 10 years. We are confident that before the ban on the sale of intentionally added microplastics will become active in 2029, the authorities will already have introduced derogations for a ray of products or applications that, like Greenfill, are currently insufficiently judged on their merits.
Daring to embrace
The emphasis society places on durability, predictability, quality, performance and degradation of materials used in products that are expected to handle extensive footfall, makes the use of (biodegradable) polymers inevitable. Only an industrial quality and quantity will be able to meet these demands.
Municipalities and clubs that want to improve their football facilities and invest in the future of the club and players and who are willing to cut the red tape, will invest in Greenfill. Being based on a biodegradable polymer, it will perform as stipulated. Being 100% biodegradable it will, eventually, not leave any trace in soil or water.
Dutch football club E.H.S.’85 was willing to take the gamble and is now reaping the benefits. “We have a large contingent of younger players and we are adamant that we want to offer them the best possible facilities. These facilities should facilitate a good quality game as well as not having any impact on the environment that could affect their future,” chairperson Aaltje Bosma said at the official opening of an artificial turf field with Senbis products that is fully recyclable. As soon as she heard that Senbis was intending to install a testpitch with a fully biodegradable artificial turf carpet and infill, she fought tooth and nail to have the field installed at her club. “Initially, we were considering installing it at a club that is playing in the Dutch Eredivisie, the national football competition in the Netherlands. However, with Aaltje Bosma going to great lengths to state her case and continuous follow up, it made sense for us to install this field at E.H.S.’85. We have developed our biodegradable artificial turf carpet GreenBlade and our biodegradable infill Greenfill to deliver the best possible game performance without having an impact on the environment. The facilities of E.H.S.’85 are located in a densely wooded area and are predominantly being used by our future-generation. Both are key-drivers in the development of our products,” Senbis managing director, Gerard Nijhoving explains. The example E.H.S.’85 set has now been followed by S.C. Erica which has used GreenFill in a full-sized synthetic turf field.
It took the world close to 1600 years to really embrace the advantages of the wheel. It took only a curious split second to notice a solution what has ultimately become to known as penicillin. In the coming six years, society will be in for a transition to new raw materials. The competent authorities do already accept biodegradable polymers and it will only be a matter of time before they also accept them for use in third-generation artificial turf surfaces. Authorities around the world are currently facing some enormous challenges and decision to take, but an investment in Greenfill and in GreenBlade remains a safe bet in the interest of the game and the benefit of our future.