Andalusia, pioneer in ceasing to subsidise artificial turf with microplastics

The Official Gazette of the Andalusian Regional Government published on 4 April the rules for the granting of subsidies for sports infrastructures, with restrictions for fields with rubber
Césped artificial con ecolastene - PHOTO/ESPAMA
Artificial grass with ecolastene - PHOTO/ESPAMA

The Andalusian Regional Government has taken a big step towards sustainability and safety in sports fields by becoming the first autonomous community to exclude artificial turf fields with microplastic substrate from subsidies for the construction of sports infrastructures.

  1. Andalusia
  2. European ban
  3. Artificial turf with rubber
  4. Ecolastene, a sustainable alternative

Andalusia

In last Thursday's edition, 4 April, of the Official Gazette of the Andalusian Regional Government (BOJA), the Resolution of 25 March 2024, of the Directorate General of Events and Sports Facilities, was published. It establishes the bases that regulate the granting of subsidies for the promotion of sports infrastructures for local entities in Andalusia.

Boletín Oficial de la Junta de Andalucía - PHOTO/BOJA
Official Gazette of the Junta de Andalucía - PHOTO/BOJA

On the second page of the bulletin it is stated that "the following types of sports facilities will be eligible for reform or repair: football pitches. In the case of the proposed installation or replacement of artificial turf, the granular infill material used may NOT be microplastics".

European ban

This is a pioneering regulation in Spain, as it is the first Spanish autonomous community to stop subsidising artificial turf sports fields that use a microplastic substrate, which are usually rubber fragments.

The Andalusian Regional Government's decision is motivated by the provisions of European Commission Regulation 2023/2055 of 25 September 2023 regarding synthetic polymer microparticles.

Análisis de partículas de caucho en el laboratorio de Igoid- PHOTO/ATALAYAR
Analysis of rubber particles in the Igoid laboratory- PHOTO/ESPAMA

This Regulation, published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 27 September 2023, entered into force 20 days after its publication and establishes a ban on the marketing of products containing microplastic particles smaller than 5 millimetres in diameter.

The rule aims to prevent the release into the environment of some 42,000 tonnes per year of these materials contained in certain products, according to calculations made by the European Chemicals Agency.

In total, the Agency estimates that, in the 20 years following the entry into force of the Regulation, a cumulative reduction in emissions of approximately 500,000 tonnes of microplastics will be achieved.

Artificial turf with rubber

Artificial turf sports fields with rubber substrate are responsible for a large share of microplastic emissions. In this respect, the European Commission Regulation notes that "infill material for use in synthetic turf sports surfaces is the largest contributor in terms of microplastic use in products, as well as the largest source of environmental emissions of intentionally present synthetic polymer micro-particles at European level".

Análisis de césped artifical en el laboratorio de Igoid - PHOTO ATALAYAR
Artificial grass analysis in the Igoid laboratory - PHOTO ESPAMA

It adds that "the implementation of risk management measures to reduce the release of granular filler for use in synthetic sports surfaces is likely to lead to significantly lower costs than replacing them with alternatives. However, risk management measures would not completely eliminate these releases and would therefore be less effective than a long-term ban".

The European Commission therefore provides for a transitional period of eight years "for the marketing ban to ensure that more existing synthetic sports surfaces using this product can reach the natural end of their useful life before they need to be replaced".

The Andalusian Regional Government, aware of this regulation, has been quick to exclude artificial turf pitches with microplastic substrate from the eligible infrastructures.

Ecolastene, a sustainable alternative

To solve the problem facing managers of sports facilities with artificial turf pitches, a consortium of Spanish and German companies that make up the EU-funded LIFE T4C project have found a sustainable and safe alternative to polluting microplastics.

This is the Ecolastene, a recycled and recyclable product, developed by the company GWC from Murcia and tested on artificial turf pitches by the company Igoid, a spin-off of the University of Castilla-La Mancha, which grants FIFA and World Rugby certifications.

Partículas de Ecolastene - PHOTO ATALAYAR
Ecolastene particles - PHOTO ESPAMA

Ecolastene is made up of particles larger than 5 millimetres in diameter which, due to their shape, adhere to the synthetic fibres of the turf, preventing them from leaving the pitch and sticking to the players' shoes or kits.

The two aforementioned companies, together with the installation company Sports&Lanscape; the synthetic fibre developer Polytan; the drainage company Hauraton; and Espama Comunicación, make up the consortium that will shape the future of artificial turf pitches in Spain.