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The artificial turf sector anticipates a key deliverable on an AIMPLAS project that seeks to drastically improve waste processing methods in artificial turf recycling. A sample product made from recycled artificial turf will result from the new RECITURF project – along with evidence for the effectiveness and viability of new waste processing methods.
The Problems with Artificial Turf Recycling
Artificial turf can be a much more sustainable alternative to real grass on sports fields and pitches and the public-built environment and domestic applications. It requires less maintenance and – importantly – does not need to be watered.
However, at only five to ten years, the life span of these products is relatively short. Artificial turf is typically used for high-wear applications such as sports and training facilities, where degradation of the product can have safety and performance implications.
To further exacerbate the sustainability problem faced by the artificial turf sector, conventional waste processing methods are poorly equipped to perform artificial turf recycling effectively – much is discarded to landfills once it reaches the end of life.
Artificial turf cannot be recycled effectively without separating the different plastics used in the product. These plastics – polyurethane or latex for the secondary backing, PET blades, and polypropylene fibers – have different viscosities and melting temperatures. Some, like the thick polyurethane or latex backing material, are not even thermoformed plastics at all.
Some artificial turf recycling companies use mechanical waste processing methods. For example, ReMark uses air, sieving, separation tables, and gravity to break up artificial turf into its constituent plastics. Some facilities also recycle artificial turf by converting it into chips and using them as filler for the newer synthetic turf installation, or in paths and trails.
However, the necessarily ruggedized construction of artificial turf naturally creates a product that requires unique and expensive mechanical waste processing methods.
RECITURF: New Waste Processing Methods for the Artificial Turf Sector
A new project from AIMPLAS and partners seeks to overcome these challenges in artificial turf recycling by designing new waste processing methods that they hope will be adopted by the artificial turf sector to drive their products' further sustainability.
RECITURF is seeking new waste processing methods that will allow for greater levels of artificial turf recycling. The project is being delivered by AIMPLAS with partners ACTECO and REALTURF, and is funded by the Valencian Innovation Agency (AVI).
The project aims to develop waste processing methods that separate the material necessary for artificial turf recycling. The delivery partners will focus on this project's chemical separation methods, enabling them to recover distinct plastic materials from artificial turf waste.
Chemical recycling processes under scrutiny for artificial turf in this project are biological or enzymatic degradation and, for the polyurethane backing, chemical recycling or glycolysis.
Polyurethane recycling, in particular, is becoming increasingly important due to factors including land and water pollution and exhaustion of raw materials. Mechanical and chemical processes are currently used to recycle this material. However, biodegradation may become more viable for polyurethane.
How to Create Confidence in Artificial Turf Recycling
The RECITURF project will seek to create a product using recycled artificial turf obtained with new waste processing methods. It will increase confidence in artificial turf recycling among the artificial turf sector, investors, and consumers at large.
To ensure take-up of new waste processing methods, the project is considering stakeholders throughout the circular economy value chain to make sure all can benefit.
Another key deliverable for the RECITURF project is a detailed budget and cost evaluation which can be used to make a strong business case for chemical recycling to the artificial turf sector.
This evidence – and the scalability and flexibility of new chemical waste processing methods for artificial turf – is essential for AIMPLAS and its partners’ next steps: large-scale deployment.
To ensure confidence in artificial turf recycling, facilities and waste processors have to be reassured that quality recycled materials can be extracted and processed from artificial turf at a viable cost. The wraparound research and evaluation that goes into this project will provide some of this reassurance.
The project – which entails and evaluates input and benefits to stakeholders across the value chain for artificial turf – is in line with the circular economy model for sustainable plastics manufacture, use, and waste.
AIMPLAS, its funders, and delivery partners are focused on ensuring a successful project with rapid and impactful outcomes in terms of large-scale deployment in the near future.
References and Further Reading
“AIMPLAS’ New Project to Boost Recycling of Artificial Turf.” (2021). Special Chemistry. [Online.] https://omnexus.specialchem.com/news/industry-news/aimplas-recycling-artificial-turf-000223978.
Kemona, Aleksandra, and Małgorzata Piotrowska (2020). “Polyurethane Recycling and Disposal: Methods and Prospects.” Polymers. [Online.] https://doi.org/10.3390/polym12081752.
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