• Thu. May 23rd, 2024

Nonfilled crisis looms

The indiscriminate use of definitions to refer to new synthetic turf products that don’t contain any performance infill is a recipe for disaster.

Over the past few months, Sportsfields.info has attended product introductions and forum discussions regarding so-called nonfilled synthetic turf products, throughout Europe.

At virtually every event, potential buyers and suppliers consistently referred to products without performance infill as a nonfilled surface.

However, 9 out of 10 times, the product didn’t warrant to be called as such, putting buyers and tender specifiers in a predicament if they cannot consciously describe the product they want to have delivered.


What is a nonfilled surface?

Last year, Sportsfields.info reported on a list with definitions that FIFA had introduced to describe the various components of a synthetic turf top-layer.

The list clearly stated that a nonfilled synthetic turf surface does not contain any infill; neither mineral infill (often used to stabilize and weigh down the synthetic turf carpet) nor performance infill (e.g., polymeric infills like SBR or TPE or natural materials like cork, corn or wood chips) that allow the players to place their studs “in” the surface.

The list with definitions has now been endorsed by most national FAs.

Asked by Sportsfields.info whether these definitions are still valid and accurate, a FIFA spokesperson confirmed that the list is still in use. Sportsfields.info was also told that, “FIFA, at the moment, doesn’t see a reason to either update or adjust the list, despite most companies failing to produce a synthetic turf surface that doesn’t require any infill.” The response was short but sharp: “That is the bar that has been set and it is up to the market to meet the conditions that have been defined. Some companies have succeeded in doing so, so we don’t ask for the impossible.”


Possible pitfalls

It appears that most companies struggle to produce a synthetic turf carpet that is not slippery, and delivers stability as well as rotational friction. To them, a small layer of sand (“mineral infill”) does the trick. Those that Sportsfields.info spoke to maintain that it is impossible to produce an affordable and safe synthetic turf top-layer for football, rugby, American Football or Gaelic Football, that doesn’t use any infill.

They claim the sand is necessary to meet the requirements or to compensate for the use of additional yarn to improve the carpet.

These companies have consistently been calling their system a nonfilled system, sand-dressed system or 4th generation synthetic turf system.

Unaware buyers or tender specifiers who fail to address this correctly might find themselves in a situation where products they had identified as being on a possible list to choose from have to be excluded, or where the allocated budget for the project turns out to be insufficient.


Why nonfill?

The design and request for nonfilled synthetic turf products accelerated once the debate started about the environmental impact of synthetic turf products. In the absence of polymeric infill, nonfilled surfaces don’t pollute the environment.

In addition, the absence of mineral infill means that the surface, once reclaimed at the end of its functional life, is also easier to recycle and to reintroduce as a raw material for high-end products.

Despite recycling companies being currently capable of cleaning out 99% of any infill from a long-pile synthetic turf carpet, most synthetic turf yarn producers are still hesitant to reintroduce polymers from reclaimed surfaces. It only takes one sand particle to destroy their extruder. It is believed that, in the absence of any mineral infill, it will be easier to clean out, recycle and reintroduce a nonfilled surface.

Sportsfields.info is currently busy working on an update about nonfilled developments. Here you can read what we wrote last year. When you register here, you’ll be automatically notified once we have published our updated article.


Guy Oldenkotte

Guy Oldenkotte is senior editor of sportsfields.info and has been covering the outdoor sportssurfaces market and industry since 2003

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