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European Commission move to restrict microplastic use set to impact infill used in synthetic turf systems

European Commission move to restrict microplastic use set to impact infill used in synthetic turf systems
September 9, 2022

The use of recycled rubber and plastic as an infill for artificial turf systems may well be impacted by recommendations from the European Commission (EC) to introduce restrictions for the placing of intentionally added microplastics.

Published last week, the EC’s recommendations for restrictions for the placing of intentionally added microplastics onto the European market (Annex XVII REACH1) recommend a ban on the future sale of microplastic infill (most commonly end of life tyre shred) for synthetic turf systems, as the most effective way to reduce microplastic emissions.

The EC is proposing a six year transition period at point of sale before the new restriction becomes effective.

The EC's findings follow research published earlier this year that, for the first time, detected microplastic pollution in human blood for the first time, with scientists from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands finding the tiny particles in almost 80% of the people tested.

While the impact of microplastic pollution in on the body's health is as yet unknown, researchers are concerned as microplastics cause damage to human cells in the laboratory and air pollution particles are already known to enter the body and cause millions of early deaths a year.

While any EC legislation will only apply to its member nations in Europe, it is expected to impact the use of recycled rubber and plastic as an infill in synthetic sports and playground surfacase worldwide.

Responding to the recommendation, the European Synthetic Turf Council has released a position paper identifying risks and opportunities from the proposed ban.

Noting its agreement "with the goals ... (to) reduce the emissions of intentionally added microplastics as part of the wider European Green Deal for climate neutrality by 2050", the ESTC (the EMEA Synthetic Turf Council) highlights its work with many stakeholders (including international sports federations) to help develop the CEN Technical Report 175193 for infill control and mitigation.

Commenting on the EC's six year transition period before the new restriction becomes effective, it notes "current surfaces are expected to be usable for at least 10 years and many existing fields may struggle to achieve their full-service life due to an inability to purchase the materials required for on-going maintenance, forcing communities, schools and sports clubs to either replace their surfaces prematurely or risk deteriorations in the quality and safety of their fields.

"ESTC therefore calls for the transition period to be extended to at least 10 years to enable those that have recently invested in new fields to obtain the full operational life they anticipated."

ESTC goes on to point out that "the proposed legislation does not require any retrospective actions to be undertaken to current fields and this is also welcomed by ESTC as this would have been a significant burden on facility owners and operators. ESTC does, however, encourage everyone to ensure their fields are managed and maintained responsibly so they do not allow infill to migrate into the environment including the adoption of the guidance outlined in CEN Technical Report 17519 for all new fields that will use microplastic infills during the transition phase.

"The ban of intentionally added microplastic will not change the benefits of turf systems to the millions of people enjoying them each year. Synthetic turf fields offer high quality and long-lasting surfaces that allow communities throughout Europe to benefit from the health, social inclusion and mental wellbeing advantages that sport and physical activity provides in a wide range of different climates."

It also points out that "this decision will be a challenge to the majority of European markets in which infills classified as microplastics have proven to be the most popular. Although a lot of research and development efforts have been taking place in the period leading up to the decision of the European Commission resulting in very promising alternative solutions, the industry will find it challenging in all markets to fully transition within the proposed period of six years.

"This further reinforces the request to extend the transition period to at least 10 years to allow for a more controlled changeover."

Click here to view the ESTC position paper.

Click here to view the EC recommendation.

About the author

Nigel Benton

Co-owner / Publisher, Australasian Leisure Management

Nigel Benton is the co-owner and publisher of Australasian Leisure Management, Australia and New Zealand’s only magazine for professionals in all areas of the leisure industry. Having established the magazine in 1997, shortly after his relocation to Australia, he has managed its readership rising to over 11,500 and its acceptance as the industry journal for professionals in aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues.

As of 2020, he has launched the new Asian Leisure Business website.

Among a range of published works and features, his comments on a Blog (blogspot) from 2007 to 2011, when this website went live in its current form, may be interesting to reflect back on.

Click here to connect with him via LinkedIn.

Read more from this author

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