If we want to achieve a sustainable society, we will have to accept that some radical changes will have to be made. The biodegradable materials of Senbis Polymer Innovations are already the standard in various industries. By embracing Senbis biodegradable infill, municipalities confirm they already have a vision in terms of a sustainable society and future in place.
The EU has obliged municipalities to invest more in circular products. By 2030, half of the products national and local governments source, should be circular products. This volume is expected to be 100% by 2050. For many municipalities, this means they will have to develop new visions and protocols. Perhaps this will be good opportunity to get rid of the often detested Economic Most Advantageous procurement model as a yardstick when choosing an artificial turf system. Linking 100% circularity to artificial turf requires that the technical specifications and projected performance supersede the lowest common price approach currently adopted by many field owners.
New raw materials
For many years, the artificial turf industry succeeded in maintaining direction by slightly turning the relevant dials accordingly. However, with society now facing the cliff called “sustainable society,” most of the established routes for artificial turf are heading to a dead end. The entire artificial turf value chain will have to make radical decisions and changes in order to survive the decisions governments will be forced to take. The most important question for the sports field sector will be the question of which raw material they should use for their artificial turf fibres and/or infill. Senbis Polymer Innovations from the Netherlands is an market leader in terms of polymers that are biodegradable and recyclable. Examples of Senbis products that have been commonly adopted are compostable horticulture twines and fishing ropes and nets meant to avoid microplastic pollution at sea. In recent years, Senbis has invested millions in new R&D equipment, machines and staff in order to expand the portfolio with biodegradable polymer products.
Senbis Polymer Innovations originates from the Algemene Kunstzijde Unie (AKU), one of the two companies that merged in 1969 to become the industrial conglomerate Akzo (later known as Akzo Nobel). The research laboratories of Senbis Polymer Innovations are still located at the Getec Park in Emmen, the Netherlands. Measuring 100 hectares, this is the largest industrial park in the northern part of the Netherlands. The presence of companies such as Senbis Polymer Innovations but also BASF and DSM justify Getec Park Emmen being seen as the ‘cradle of the polymer revolution’. Senbis mainly focuses on the development of product solutions based on biodegradable polymers. Usually, it are companies with a vision that recognise the importance of making Senbis part of their product development to complement their expertise and giving their new innovations the final push. The expertise in biodegradable polymers places Senbis in the right position to do this.
First biodegradable infill
Senbis started developing GreenFill biodegradable infill in 2017. Since 2019, this granulate has been used in third-generation artificial turf fields throughout the Netherlands. That same year, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport encouraged Senbis to develop more biodegradable artificial turf products. Together with partners TenCate Grass, Greenfields, Antea Sport, Edel Grass and Sweco, Senbis Polymer Innovations was awarded a grant to investigate the possibilities and future for a biodegradable artificial turf. Such development should definitively end the problems commonly associated with end-of-life artificial turf as well as eliminating the problem of microplastics pollution. Like with GreenFill, the aim with the biodegradable artificial turf carpet is to have an artificial turf that bacteria can convert to water, CO2 and humus once it has been removed. The standard degradation time for GreenFill into natural soil is seven months, which is well within the two-year period set by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA). This makes GreenFill already a solution to avoid the environmental pollution caused by microplastics. Once Senbis succeeds in developing a biodegradable artificial turf that can decompose in a compost bin, Senbis and its partners facilitate the removal of end-of-life artificial turf under a much more relaxed legislative framework as the removal process and removed carpet, likely, will no longer be viewed as a ‘hazardous product’.
Biobased vs biodegradable
The intended biodegradable artificial turf and the biodegradable infill that Senbis has already developed are emphatically different from the mere biobased artificial turf products that other companies are experimenting with. Although biobased products are made from natural raw materials such as cane sugar or maize, this does not automatically mean that they are also biodegradable. In addition, working with biobased raw materials aims to reduce the CO2 footprint of a material. Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly investigate per product whether this is indeed more sustainable. Processing biomass also costs energy, just like the transport movements involved. In addition, entire habitats being destroyed by deforestation to create space for large-scale agriculture must be prevented, while the agricultural processes themselves must also become more sustainable. Senbis Polymer Innovations’ biodegradable products don’t experience these challenges or problems.
Replacement for polymeric infill
With GreenFill, Senbis offers a solution for football associations and municipalities that want the performance of a polymeric infill that doesn’t come with the pollution challenges caused by microplastics originating from the infill. This third-generation artificial turf concept, whereby long-pile artificial turf is filled in with infill to provide players stability and a more natural playing experience, is widely accepted and has proven itself for a long time already. For the time being, a next generation solution, including non-filled fields, has not yet been accepted by the football governing authorities, including FIFA. Therefore, the third-generation artificial turf concept will continue dominating the artificial turf offering for the years to come. Third-generation artificial turf football pitches with GreenFill are just as safe and effective as pitches filled in with traditional polymeric infills. However, by applying GreenFill, those fields are also an added value for future generations. GreenFill has already been included in the Dutch Sports Flooring List, the list with artificial turf systems that have been tried and tested, and from which Dutch clubs and municipalities have to select their system in order to be compliant. Various artificial turf installing companies also use GreenFill in some of their systems that have been tested and approved in accordance to the FIFA Quality and FIFA Quality Pro protocols, the internationally accepted standards for artificial turf for football in stadiums as well as for recreational purposes.
The driving force
Gone are the days when big changes could be achieved by slightly adjusting the design of artificial turf systems. Both industry and society stand on the edge of a huge cliff. Just as companies like Tesla and Apple have encouraged entire industries to return to the basics of their product, Senbis Polymer Innovations is redefining the artificial turf recipe of the future.