Synthetic turf enables the practice of sports in all weathers but their use in conjunction with rubber tyre granules has raised health and environmental questions
What will Luxembourg do if the European Commission bans artificial turf pitches? The question was raised by a Luxembourg MP after reports of a ban for environmental and health reasons.
While the commission has said it is considering restrictions, not an outright ban, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) is examining alternatives to the artificial pitches whose rubber infill generates up to an estimated 72,000 tonnes of microplastics annually in the EU.
According to the ECHA, the infill material used in such pitches is made from small granules of old tyres which, when broken down, find their way into eco-systems.
Why is this an issue for Luxembourg?
Luxembourg administrations have invested heavily in updating sports facilities with the result that today there are some 80 artificial pitches in the country, sports minister Dan Kersch (LSAP) said, responding to a parliamentary question from Carole Hartmann (DP) published on 5 September. Compared to traditional grass pitches, synthetic turf enables the practice of sports in all weathers and can lower the cost for maintenance.
But, Kersch stressed it does not mean the country will necessarily have to replace them all.
Indeed, the ECHA is examining alternatives, among them technical measures to prevent the loss of infill material from artificial turf pitches into the environment.
Its recommendations are expected to be finalised in early 2020 after which they’ll be sent to the commission.
“All factors, including the important role that sport fields play in promoting physical exercise, health and social inclusion, are taken into account in the decision-making process,” the ECHA wrote on its website.
If an eventual restriction is adopted, Kersch outlined that other alternatives exist, such as artificial pitches without padding, of which 20 already exist in Luxembourg. Other alternatives include replacing the rubber pieces with cork chips.
Finally, he stressed there would be an adequate transition period for facilities to be adapted. He stressed that the situation remains “hypothetical” for now.
What’s the deal with microplastics?
Microplastics are generally formed as a by-product from the break-down the plastics that have become part of our everyday lives. But, they can also be intentionally made for certain products to achieve an abrasive effect. Typically smaller than 5mm, once released into the environment, they can accumulate in the bodies of animals, including fish and shell fish and which can subsequently enter into the human food chain. It is estimated that they make up around 90% of pollutants.