The Future of Artificial Turf Recycling

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The artificial turf sector is awaiting a key to an AIMPLAS project that aims to drastically improve waste processing methods in artificial turf recycling. The new RECITURF project will produce a sample product made from recycled artificial turf – along with evidence of the effectiveness and viability of new waste processing methods.

The problems with artificial turf recycling

Artificial grass can be a much more sustainable alternative to real grass on sports fields and playing fields, as well as in public settings and household applications. It requires less maintenance and, importantly, doesn’t need watering.

However, at only five to ten years, the lifespan of these products is relatively short. Artificial grass is typically used for high wear applications such as sports and training facilities where product degradation can impact safety and performance.

To further exacerbate the sustainability problem of the artificial turf sector, conventional waste processing methods are poorly equipped to carry out artificial turf recycling effectively – much is disposed of in landfills after the end of life.

Artificial grass cannot be effectively recycled without separating the different plastics used in the product. These plastics – polyurethane or latex for the secondary carrier, PET blades and polypropylene fibers – have different viscosities and melting temperatures. Some, like the thick polyurethane or latex backing material, are not thermoformed plastics at all.

Some artificial turf recycling companies use mechanical waste processing methods. For example, ReMark uses air, screen, separation tables and gravity to break artificial turf into its plastic components. Some facilities also recycle artificial turf by turning it into chips and using it as a filler for newer artificial turf installations or on paths and trails.

However, the necessarily robust construction of artificial turf naturally creates a product that requires unique and expensive mechanical waste processing techniques.

RECITURF: New waste processing methods for the artificial turf sector

A new project by AIMPLAS and its partners is trying to address these artificial turf recycling challenges by developing new waste processing methods that they hope will be adopted by the artificial turf sector to further the sustainability of their products.

RECITURF is looking for new waste processing methods that enable a higher level of artificial turf recycling. The project is carried out by AIMPLAS with the partners ACTECO and REALTURF and financed by the Valencian Innovation Agency (AVI).

The project aims to develop waste processing methods that separate the material required for artificial turf recycling. The supply partners will focus on the chemical separation methods of this project, which will enable them to extract different plastic materials from artificial turf waste.

Chemical recycling processes that are examined in this project on artificial turf are biological or enzymatic degradation and, for the polyurethane carrier, chemical recycling or glycolysis.

In particular, the recycling of polyurethane is becoming increasingly important due to factors such as land and water pollution and raw material depletion. Mechanical and chemical processes are currently used to recycle this material. However, biodegradation can become more viable for polyurethane.

This is how you create confidence in the recycling of artificial turf

The RECITURF project will try to create a product from recycled artificial turf obtained using new waste processing methods. This will increase confidence in artificial turf recycling among artificial turf, investors and consumers as a whole.

To ensure the adoption of new waste processing methods, the project takes into account stakeholders across the circular economy value chain to ensure that everyone benefits.

Another important result for the RECITURF project is a detailed budget and cost assessment, which can be used to create a strong business model for chemical recycling in the artificial turf sector.

This evidence – and the scalability and flexibility of new methods of processing chemical waste for artificial turf – is of crucial importance for AIMPLAS and the next steps of its partners: large-scale provision.

To ensure confidence in the recycling of artificial turf, facilities and waste processors need to be sure that high quality recycled materials can be extracted and processed from artificial turf at a reasonable cost. The extensive research and evaluation that goes into this project will provide some of that security.

The project, which includes and evaluates input and benefits for stakeholders along the value chain for artificial turf, is in line with the circular economy model for sustainable plastic production, use and waste.

AIMPLAS, its funders and delivery partners are focused on ensuring a successful project with quick and effective results for a large-scale deployment in the near future.

References and further reading

“AIMPLAS ‘new project to promote the 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). “Recycling and Disposal of Polyurethane: Methods and Perspectives.” Polymers. [Online.] https://doi.org/10.3390/polym12081752.

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