Sportbedrijf Rotterdam, the entity responsible for all sports facilities in the Dutch municipality of Rotterdam, challenged the synthetic turf industry in 2019 to continue developing circular and sustainable systems by tendering the renovation of over 40 synthetic turf pitches. This tender will expire by the end of this year but helped shape the contours for synthetic turf and its renovation approach of the future.
Sportbedrijf Rotterdam took a giant leap by tendering the renovation of this many fields to only two contractors. The company was founded only in 2018. “That was in the time of the Zembla TV episodes on synthetic turf and we realized that if we did not change our mindset, we too would contribute to maintaining the status quo they revealed,” explains Ed van der Burg, regarding their motives. By tendering this many renovations and for a period of four years, Sportbedrijf Rotterdam wanted to create stability and trust. The volume was also meant to inspire tenderers to continue developing and innovating. The GKB Groep from Barendrecht and CSC Sport, a contractor that works throughout the Netherlands, each received a slice of the cake.
Van der Burg is certainly pleased with the end result of the individual renovations, but, above all, is more satisfied with what the tender has initiated. “The Zembla episode on the growing problem of end-of-life turf as well as the possible negative effects of the use of SBR had an oppressive effect on everyone. Our demand that reclaimed synthetic turf should be processed within one year and that reclaimed materials should be reused for good purpose has helped to accelerate a number of positive developments.” He lists the establishment of synthetic turf recyclers GBN-AGR and RE-Match, the improved working methods to prevent further microplastic pollution by wrapping end-of-life turf on-site, and the introduction of various new synthetic turf components as some of the achievements.
“We now create synthetic turf carpets that have fibres that partly consist of recycled synthetic turf and we have used recycled TPE and a corn residue as infill. Furthermore, the use of crates of recycled plastic to create buffers for irrigation water has become the norm for hockey fields, while the reclaimed sand and the synthetic turf agglomerate have been used to produce new products.” Two examples of the latter are the Eco-cept shock absorbing layer for underneath hockey turf and kickboards to maintain polymeric infill within the field perimeter.
Short communication lines
All van der Burg and his team stipulated for each project was a solid foundation and the desired type of synthetic turf fibre. Anything else was left to the imagination of the contractor. It is an approach that has pleased Andre Ceelen of CSC Sport. “Thanks to the long contract period, we didn’t experience the pressure in terms of time or finances that we usually experience. As a result, it will be easier to find common ground and to deliver something astonishing,” he notes. Arjan Kraaijeveld of the GKB Groep agrees. “As a contractor, you are aspiring for certainty. This way, you can you build up a true relationship. Furthermore, we had only one person to deal with in case we wanted to have something discussed, who greatly helped us by acting and taking decisions promptly.” Sportbedrijf Rotterdam had the work supervised by both Technical Bureau Zuidema and Middelkoop Advies, two consultancy firms with extensive experience in the field of synthetic turf fields for sports. They would sit down with the contracts every second week during the project, unless the circumstances required a higher frequency.
Van der Burg points out that it was a conscious decision to work with smaller, specialist agencies instead of large organizations with entire teams of engineers. “That works well in situations where municipalities want to be completely relieved. We already have the necessary expertise in-house, hence we only had to find assistance with the few competencies we don’t have internally.” Ceelen declares that that Sportbedrijf Rotterdam has gained much from this decision. “Trust always pays off. I dare to state that with this method of tendering, guiding, managing as well as supervising, they will have saved a significant amount of money without jeopardizing the quality.”
According to van der Burg, short communication lines are common within the Rotterdam Municipal offices. “We are completely independent but we still have a contact person at the municipality of Rotterdam. In addition, we also have a very good relationship with various departments such as Rotterdam’s Weerwoord, a municipal initiative that strives to get Rotterdam more climate-proof in terms of water.” It is no wonder that one can find several cleverly designed sports fields within the municipal boundaries of the city that alleviate water issues in a smart way (see box).
Dare to dream
A component in the tender process was the plans for a so-called ‘dream field’ tenderers were requested to submit. “We asked the tenderers to define their dream field for a significant budget we were willing to spend,” explains van der Burg. It was something that pleased Kraaijeveld. “Tenders that focus on getting the cheapest price possible never allow you to distinguish yourself,” he points out. With their head office based in Barendrecht, just south of Rotterdam, Kraaijeveld was very keen to get part of the work.
“This is in our home turf, and for us it was important to be involved because of the pronounced emphasis on sustainability and circularity. We were very keen on having the opportunity to point out to those around us here that we have worked on a certain project.” GKB Groep is a family-owned business. “That means that we have an extra focus on leaving something positive for the next generation.”
Ceelen claims that tenders that look for the cheapest price should actually be something of the past. “This kind of tender limits the dynamics of the market where we need innovations and new ideas to tackle current problems.” He too felt inspired to work out a dream field. “It granted us the opportunity to suddenly pursue a wide variety of new ideas like non-filled turf, the reuse of the shockpad or the use of reclaimed concrete in your concrete subbase,” he says, summing up some ideas that CSC Sport played with.
Using each other’s expertise
Both GKB Groep and CSC Sport each had their own cluster with works, but with all works finished, it can be concluded that all hockey fields have actually been renovated by CSC Sport, while the works that required extensive groundworks went to the GKB Groep. When asked which projects stand out for him, van der Burg mentions one project where both contractors have worked together. “That was the conversion of two adjacent sand-dressed pitches for hockey to full-water fields for hockey club Temo’34. GKB Groep used Grauwacke to realize a water buffer underneath their field. CSC Sport built the field next to it on impenetrable foam concrete and fitted tubes in the concrete that guides the water that falls onto their field to the water storage underneath the adjacent field. The water that is now being collected on both fields and stored in that buffer is now used to irrigate both fields.”
That trust in each other’s expertise has resulted in more than just 40 renovated synthetic turf pitches. “As we first had to draft a new standard, the reuse of mineral infill only happened gradually. And the application of a water buffer was initially not described in the tender specifications,” Ceelen points out. “The project has also put us in a position to clean and reuse reclaimed lava responsibly. We’ll do so in a structure where the subbase is placed in a controlled environment that prevents any possible leaching reaching the water table underneath.”
Nevertheless, all three call on external parties to take up their responsibility. “For the time being, we use TPE infill in our third-generation synthetic turf fields until it is really clear what the synthetic turf football field of the future will be. However, we also have fields with infill from corn residue, cork and so-called non-filled fields,” says van der Burg. A greater uniformity would be more economical for him. “However, that requires more clarity from the governing bodies,” he states, referring to the Dutch FA, which has still not fully adopted a ‘field of the future.’
Despite the positive experiences of tendering a large number of projects for a longer period of time to a limited number of companies, Sportbedrijf Rotterdam has learnt a few lessons. “A lot has happened in the past four years and many of these developments were not foreseen when we started. One of the lessons we have drawn is that we must maintain more flexibility,” van der Burg notes. In 2019, a possible ban on the use of polymeric infill was only surfacing on the radar and non-filled fields were only an experiment. Since 2019, synthetic turf fields that can generate enough energy to power over 200 residential units have entered the market, while the industry is also working towards a system that weighs the LCA of a synthetic turf field. Furthermore, a growing number of contractors are now also using electrically charged vehicles and equipment to lower the CO2 footprint of an installation. “We are currently working on a new tender document, and in this document, we intend to work with a larger pool of companies and in such a way that we can trigger them annually.” This new tender will also contain the developments of entirely new synthetic turf projects. “The next four years will certainly be completely different, but that was not possible without the innovations and the lessons we drew from the tender we issued in 2019,” van der Burg concludes.