ESTC welcomes EU and UEFA statements in microplastics debate

The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC) is pleased to have noted the statements made by the European Commission (EU) and the European Football Association (UEFA) to clarify the position of synthetic turf in the current debate about microplastics.

An official statement by the EU released on 25 July, states: ‘The European Commission does not plan to ban artificial turf pitches and does not work on such a proposal.’ The statement goes on to say that: ‘The truth is: The Commission’s plastic strategy is looking at ways to reduce the amount of environmentally harmful microplastics in our environment. In this context, among other things, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently conducting a public consultation on the possible effects of a possible restriction on the use of microplastic granules, which is used, among other things, as filling material for artificial turf.’

The EU statement follows that of an UEFA official issued to the German Press Agency (DPA): ‘There is currently insufficient evidence of the dangers of these substances to the environment.’ The official also pointed out that ‘the existing alternatives lead to high costs and are neither feasible nor sustainable.’

ESTC Director General Stefan Diderich is happy with the public announcements made by the EU and UEFA. “The public concern and debate about the environment are understandable but the way arguments have wrongfully been linked to the synthetic turf lately, doesn’t serve any purpose. It is good to see that the European Commission is arresting this situation.”

The ESTC’s position on infill and microplastics is clear. “Infill is an essential component for third-generation synthetic turf systems. Providing it is kept within the system it is not a pollutant. There are many systems and solutions available to keep the infill within the field. All that is lacking at the moment is for owners, users and maintenance crews to actively participate in ensuring the infill remains in the field. The ESTC and its members are working hard to create such awareness.”

European Chemical Agency

While welcoming the statements from the EU and UEFA, a statement released by ECHA shows that there is still work to be done regarding the education on synthetic turf systems. “We are very disappointed to note that ECHA still relays on unvalidated data when motivating why it is still investigating infill for synthetic turf pitches. Over the past few months the ESTC, and many other organisations, have answered ECHA’s call to participate in the public consultation process regarding a ban on the intentionally use of microplastics. We have submitted extensive and substantiated information on the 5 questions ECHA asked. It appears that this information has largely been ignored as ECHA still uses data which has been proven to be incorrect.”

ESTC’s Technical Director, Alastair Cox, has reached out to ECHA and offered assistance from the ESTC to help ECHA understand how infill is managed in a synthetic turf system.  

Predicting at this point whether there is a future for granular infills in synthetic turf pitches, is premature. “The ESTC is continuously updating ECHA on new developments and trends in the industry that can help in reducing or preventing a possible microplastics problem as well as explaining why a ban on synthetic turf would be counterproductive. Our participation has been acknowledged and is appreciated. Understandingly, ECHA sets the bar very high in stimulating the industry. It’s a challenge that the ESTC and the synthetic turf industry are very eager to meet. A good example was the debate on the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon that crumb rubber was allowed to contain. After ECHA initially planned to pursue a very low limit, the industry reviewed its products and procedures to determine whether this could be achieved and proposed a maximum limit of 17mg/kg. It has now been announced that ECHA wants to introduce a limit of 20 mg/kg (0.0020 % by weight of this component) of the sum of the listed eight PAHs. We are confident that, by continuing showing our willingness to participate and assist in the debate, innovate and by continuously advocating best practices, the synthetic turf industry under the leadership of the ESTC and ECHA will once again establish benchmarks that will be acceptable to the market, the industry and the environment collectively.