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Case

Circular business models

Recycling of waste to material

Sustainable sports surfaces

6. May 2022
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Solution provider

Re-Match

Re-Match ​offers state-of-the-art technology that enables artificial turf to be recycled. ​In a world first, our ground-breaking​technology separate​s worn-out artificial turf back into the original raw components, which can then be used in new pitches or in other production cycles.

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Challenge

While using artificial turf for sports pitches offers several benefits when compared to natural grass, disposing of it when it becomes worn out can create significant environmental issues. However, artificial turf pitches can now become fully circular products thanks to a process that separates the turf back into the original raw materials, which can then be used instead of virgin materials in new production cycles or to make new pitches.

Using artificial turf is a popular option for indoor and outdoor sports pitches, stadiums, arenas etc, as it offers a range of benefits when compared to natural grass.  Firstly, artificial turf does not wear out from intensive use in the same way that natural grass pitches do. Secondly, artificial turf can be used in all sorts of weather and climates, which allows more sports matches and training sessions to be conducted. Thirdly, nor does artificial turf require sunlight, making it an appropriate solution for both indoor and outdoor sports pitches, as well as a less costly one, given that natural grass pitches subject to a lack of sun need to employ expensive methods such as infrared lighting to assist the grass in growing. Finally, from a resource consumption perspective, artificial turf pitches do not require water or fertilisers.

All these aspects make it easier to participate in sports and recreational activities more frequently, for longer periods of time and in spaces not normally considered suitable, meaning the use of artificial turf accrues significant public health benefits.

However, the challenge is what to with the artificial turf when it needs to be replaced (normally after 8-12 years). Sending the worn-out turf to landfill or incinerating are typical, but not ideal, solutions. This is because incinerating the turf results in 400 tonnes of CO2 being emitted[1] and sending the turf to landfill bears the risk of chemical waste and microplastics entering the groundwater, as well as subjecting the owner to expensive disposal fees. Moving the turf to a new location and installing it only delays the problem.

In 2020 alone, 14,000 worn-out artificial turf pitches were either incinerated or sent to landfill. The plastic components of these pitches alone are equivalent to 19.5 billion plastic bags. Furthermore, it is estimated that 52,000 pitches will need to be replaced in 2030. These numbers highlight the need to find a viable solution to the challenge of making the use of artificial turf more sustainable and a truly circular product.

[1] Source: The Global Market for Artificial Turf COVID-19 annex, AMI Consulting, 2020

 

Solution

Owners of artificial turf for sports and recreational purposes are mindful of their environmental impact and seek to replace their pitches in a sustainable way. However, a lack of transparency and cost pressures mean choosing the most sustainable option is not always easy. Therefore, the Danish company Re-Match has developed a fully traceable way of recovering and separating the different materials used to produce artificial turf, which can then be used in new artificial turf pitches or sold as raw materials to be used in other production cycles, thus making artificial turf a circular choice for sports pitches.

The process begins when owners of artificial turf pitches, which are typically municipalities or sports clubs, have their turf analysed by Re-Match. The artificial turf pitch in question is then assigned a unique batch number, which allows for full traceability and documentation. The artificial turf is transported to one of Re-Match’s factories, which are located in Denmark, and soon also in the Netherlands and France where the company is building new factories. The Re-Match recycling process is a mechanical one without the use of water or harmful chemicals. It shreds the turf into smaller pieces, which are then sifted, cleaned, and separated. What remains is the separated materials that were used to produce the original artificial turf pitch in the first place – plastic fibres, sand, rubber and backing. They can then be used again in new products instead of virgin raw materials. For example, the sand and rubber granules can be used as infill in new sports pitches, while the remaining sand can be used in the construction industry and the rubber can be used to produce car parts. The fibres are typically used for furniture such as picnic tables, although Re-Match is working to refine a method that is jointly financed by the EU commission under the auspices of Horizon 2020 to re-use the fibres in new artificial turf pitches again.

For example, the football club MVV Maastricht recently needed to replace its artificial turf pitch. The local municipality made it a condition that the winner of the tender to install a new pitch also would be responsible for removing the pitch and recycling it. Thanks to Re-Match’s recycling process and assignation of a unique batch number, it is possible to document and trace exactly how the artificial pitch was recycled. The sand was sold and used as infill for new artificial turf pitches, the rubber was sold to a company that would use it for green roofing panels, and the plastic fibers were used to produce bands that are deployed to keep rubber granules inside artificial turf pitches.

Result

Re-Match’s recycling process offers a sustainable method for the disposal of end-of-life artificial turf and allows for full circularity of the end materials.

The robustness of Re-Match’s separation technology is supported by the fact that it the only recycled turf company to have received EU ETV (Environmental Technology Verification), a European Commission service that provides third party validation that Re-Match’s technology claims are complete, fair, and reliable. Furthermore, Re-Match’s handling of plastic fibres from the artificial turf has received EuCertPlast certification, which validates that a recycler applies best practice processes, complies with operational standards for recycling of plastic – and handles the plastic fibres in an environmentally responsible way that allows full traceability of the recycled material.

By September 30, 2021, 662 pitches from several Northern European countries have been recycled at Re-Match’s factories, which is equivalent to:

  • 10,000 lorries
  • 116,000 tonnes of waste
  • 520 million plastic bags, and
  • 000 tonnes of CO2

Every artificial turf pitch that is recycled by Re-Match results in a saving of 400 tonnes of CO2, when compared to incineration, which is equivalent to 1.4 million plastic bags, or 250 tonnes of waste. Conversely, the process used to separate artificial turf emits less than 20 tonne of CO2 per pitch.

What makes Re-Match’s solution fully circular is the fact that it can separate the rubber and plastic fibres from the worn-out turf, whereas it normally is only possible to separate the sand. Doing so reaps significant environmental benefits, as these two materials are the main CO2 culprits when an artificial turf pitch is used in a linear take-make-dispose manner.

The cradle-to-cradle solution also offers significant cost benefits, as utilising their solution to dispose of worn-out pitches is 10 per cent cheaper than having them incinerated or sent to landfill. Purchasing the separated raw materials from the old pitches is also 80 per cent cheaper than they would be if virgin raw materials were purchased.