Instead of viewing the latest EU decision as closing a chapter, both the synthetic turf industry and the market should rather use it as a point of departure to join hands to avoid draconian decisions that could damage both the industry and market alike, EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC) technical director, Alastair Cox warns.
Cox addressed an industry event in the Netherlands that was hosted by the industry association BSNC. Delegates represented both the synthetic turf industry and the market.
“Ten years ago, we would never have thought that polymeric infill would become the issue of a debate, let alone to ultimately be banned,” he said, referring to the decision by the European Commission which is discussed in this article. “One of the lessons we have learnt ever since the debate on microplastic pollution surfaced on the radar is that authorities like the European Commission pursue scientifically substantiated evidence over the knowledge and experience from the industry. The absence of scientific data to substantiate the industry’s claim that third-generation synthetic turf surfaces by far don’t lose as much infill as the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) was claiming, really forced the industry to try to come from behind. Because the academics looking into environmental issues are a real global movement and they exchange data to help each other go forward.”
By the time the industry smelled the coffee, it had run out of time to act. “Our industry is still afraid or reluctant to finance research studies. Furthermore, a PhD study usually requires multiple years to conclude, something we could ill afford with the time we had to put our data forward to meet the deadlines stipulated by ECHA.”
A good way to jointly move forward would be to join industry bodies like SAPCA in the UK or BSNC in the Netherlands. “ESTC closely works together with national organisations like SAPCA and BSNC to push the agenda forward,” Cox explained.
Not just about money
Another reason why industry and market should join hands to move forward is Cox’s explanation of the logic behind the EU’s decision.
“ECHA very quickly identified polymeric infill washed out of third-generation synthetic carpets as the single biggest contributor to microplastic pollution. The industry responded by developing risk management measures and encouraging the market to implement these to limit or even prevent polymeric infill from leaving the field perimeter. These measures were embraced by governing bodies like World Rugby and FIFA, who decided to include them in their respective manuals for synthetic turf surfaces. While the European Commission has acknowledged this effort and the fact that use of the measures has become standard in some of the biggest 3G synthetic turf markets in Europe, it also viewed the voluntary use of these measures as unsuitable across the whole of Europe.”
A shocking revelation he made was the reasoning by the European Commission that, “As approximately 68% of the European population does not do or participate in sports at all, it did not see a reason why it should consider a derogation or allow the small percentage of the EU population that does enjoy sports to hold the bigger portion at ransom.”
This revelation should be considered as shocking, as it leaves lots to be desired (in many ways) when 68% of the population is not active (in sports) at all.
With an audience consisting of both suppliers and users of synthetic turf products, Alastair Cox also encouraged more unity, as the European Commission appears to be receptive to self-regulated markets.
“Following the decision to ban the placement onto the market of additionally added microplastics, the focus will now shift to secondary microplastic pollution. Tyre wear and clothing have been identified as the biggest contributors to this problem. Instead of dealing with the issue directly, the clothing industry has responded by developing and using better filters in washing machines to capture any microplastic that is the result of wear of a clothing item. As the European Commission has accepted this as a good way forward, it appears that, as long as we will be able to control the release of yarn wear, we still stand a chance to continue using synthetic turf.”
Cox encouraged the audience to embrace the various European standards. “The European Standards Committee (CEN) is currently working on a standard for synthetic turf carpets and yarn, while a standard for shockpads has finally been adopted. As long as we work together and show the EC that our self-regulation works and is really pan-Europe, the synthetic turf industry will be able to sit at the table to put ideas and suggestions forward.”
Cox concluded that “The synthetic turf industry today is judged on fields that were sold in the past.” In other words, failure by the current owners to limit or prevent the fallout of synthetic turf fields already installed will be detrimental for the industry to develop and produce the solution that should take the same owner forward.
With, apparently, still 68% of the population out there not being active, there is ample market for clubs and field owners to attract and to expand their business. Such ambition can only be achieved when they have facilities that can handle the (additional) footfall.