Millions of square metres of synthetic turf will be removed and discarded in the northern hemisphere in the coming months. What are the options and what is it field owners have to consider to be sure the field will be disposed of correctly?
The issue of old synthetic turf has been a bone of contention in many countries for several years already. This year, it will be an even hotter topic of debate, as a growing number of countries will experience their first replacement cycle of synthetic turf. This leaves many wondering: what will happen with the old carpet and what will the new carpet mean for the future?
In Europe alone, an estimated 1,000 full-sized synthetic turf fields will be replaced, creating 15,000 tonnes of plastic waste, of which approximately only 10% is currently recycled.
The good news is that Europe will welcome two more recycling facilities before the end of the year. These will be added to the three plants that are operational already in Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK. Collectively, they have a capacity to recycle approximately 650 fields. Fortunately, it doesn’t stop here. Various companies and investors are busy finalising plans to build additional capacity in Europe and elsewhere, with Re-Match having signed leases already for plants in the US and France. Rumour has it that at least two more companies are also eyeing France as their next stop to introduce synthetic turf recycling capacity.
Four ways to dispose of synthetic turf
In general, there are four ways to dispose of old synthetic turf:
Burning the (oily) synthetic turf in an industrial kiln generates heat that is unmatched and very useful in the production process of products like cement or concrete. The offset is that it also contributes to significant CO2 emissions.
Most recycling companies currently use either a wet or dry mechanical recycling process whereby sand and infill are removed from the carpet before the carpet and backing are shredded. All components are retrieved and separated, cleaned before being placed back onto the market. Sand and infill can be used in new synthetic turf fields but the processes for doing so for the yarn and backing is still in its infancy. These components are mainly being sold to companies that produce alternative products, e.g., picnic benches and infill containment boarding.
Chemical recycling (a.k.a. pyrolysis)
Pyrolysis is a common technique used to convert plastic waste into energy, in the form of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Pyrolysis is the thermal degradation of plastic waste at different temperatures (300–900°C), in the absence of oxygen, to produce liquid oil. The oil and plastic industry have been experimenting with bringing this oil back into the synthetic turf production process for several years already and have recently started to add industrial capacity to handle the large volume of plastic waste that becomes available annually.
Re-purposing the carpet
The market for second-hand synthetic turf has grown parallel to the market for synthetic turf. As a result, removed synthetic turf carpets for sports have ended up being sold as floor mats, indoor carpets or as stabilising carpets for engineering projects. However, reuse is only legal if synthetic turf pitches meet specific quality standards and are used for the original purpose, e.g., synthetic turf from the main field or stadium being moved to a training facility.
Duty of care
Different countries tend to have a different opinion about whose responsibility it is to ensure the synthetic turf carpet is recycled correctly. Lawmakers in the US state of Maryland are currently proposing legislation that would require a producer of synthetic turf and turf infill sold or distributed in the state to establish a system to track the chain of custody of the synthetic turf and infill from installation to reuse, recycling or final disposal. The Synthetic Turf Council (STC), the industry body for the North American synthetic turf industry, believes this is farfetched. Although the idea is up for discussion, it must be remembered that every person has a duty of care. This makes the owner (party) responsible to ensure the carpet is removed and recycled within the relevant legal framework.
Use the correct definition
To avoid any problems, owners of the synthetic turf carpet that is up for removal are advised to carefully classify their carpet. If the carpet is classified as a waste material, the contractor has no other option than to process the carpet at a recycling facility. Classifying the carpet as a second-hand product allows the contractor to move and sell the product elsewhere.
According to the European Waste Code, transportation and treatment of the waste calls for approved collectors, transportation and facilities permitted to store and handle the pitches, whether they are meant to be recycled or treated in other ways. This includes cross-border shipment for treatment at foreign facilities; this must be notified and classified, due to EU legislation. The cross-border shipment of waste and its control are harmonised throughout the EU under the Waste Shipment Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006.
Re-Match founder Dennis Andersen, GBN-Artificial Grass Recycling director Eric van Roekel and SportGroup Holding / Formaturf COO Dr. Klaus Hauschulte will all address the issue of recycling synthetic turf during the upcoming AMI Grass Yarn and Tufters forum in Barcelona.
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