Alternatives without microplastics
Following the European Commission’s ban on intentionally added microplastics in synthetic turf surfaces, there has been an increasing demand for alternative environmentally friendly solutions. TenCate is aware of the negative impact of microplastics and supports the ban. We have for many years been researching and developing alternative solutions that offer the same advantages in terms of quality and performance without damaging the environment. These can be split into 3 categories:
- Organic or natural infill systems
- Mineral infill systems
- Non-infill systems
Below a summary of our findings regarding these three alternative options.
1. Organic or natural infill systems
These infills are typically derived from trees, crops and plants with olive, cork and coconut being three of the more common types. Turf systems using these infills are typically:
- Good for the environment (often developed as a byproduct),
- Capable of meeting the criteria of players and sports federations,
- Cost effective / affordable, and
- Good at controlling the temperature of fields (often by the absorb of water)
However, there are some disadvantages, which make them unsuited for some applications, including:
- More frequent maintenance (often due to their low bulk density),
- Topped up more frequently, as over time, the infill can compact, breakdown, or be removed by footwear or adverse weather, and
- They can freeze in cold climates, making them unsuitable for use in colder regions
Note: there is a wide range of materials properties of these infills, so these generalizations do not always hold true.
2. Mineral infill systems
This type of infill is typically represented by sand and other inorganic granules. Sand has been used in turf systems since the 1970s. When paired with changes in yarn configuration, it can enhance the stability and mass of synthetic turf systems. It can meet player demand under certain conditions and is affordable. However, it also has a number of disadvantages:
- Sand is hard and abrasive which can accelerate the wear of the turf fibers and reduce the lifespan of the field
- It needs to be installed low down in the system as it can cause discomfort to players when sliding or falling onto the surface
- It compacts with use, reducing footwear stud penetrations leading to poor grip, and
- It freezes when cold and becomes much firmer when wet leading to underperformance in these conditions, and sometimes an unplayable surface
3. Non-infill systems
Non-infill turf surfaces as their name suggests do not contain any infill. They closely resemble natural grass in terms of player experience and looks. They have a higher concentration of fiber typically including multiple yarn types. One key element is the ‘thatch layer’ comprising a dense layer of texturized fibers at the bottom of the product that replace the infill material.
The advantages of non-infill artificial turf surfaces are:
- Not susceptible to extreme weather conditions, e.g., frost
- Require less maintenance (no top-up or decompaction)
- Improved longevity because there are no infill materials that increase friction and wear, and they have a higher concentration of yarn
However, these systems can be more expensive on day one, but if ongoing maintenance and longer life expectancy are taken into account, they are very favorable in terms of total cost of ownership.
Turf system design is more nuanced than a single component – or infill type. The information provided here is a simplified overview of the alternative infill systems currently available. Given the range of options and their respective advantages and disadvantages the decision on which turf system is most suited to specific applications and regions need carefully consideration. Ultimately, non-filled solutions provided the greatest flexibility.
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