17 April 2015
CFO Nikolaj Magne Larsen on the Re-Match solution.
We all know how important it is to recycle plastic. Think of plastic bags and the legislation that is in place throughout Europe to minimise their use and to control their lifecycle. Then think about an artificial football pitch: one pitch holds the equivalent of 26 million plastic bags, and there are more than 37,000 pitches worldwide today, with 7,000 added each year. There is no legislation in any European country to recycle the massive amounts of waste that used artificial turf generate. Today, the worn-out turf sits in landfills, is burned, waits in car parks or is buried. In 2014, this resulted in nine million tonnes of future waste globally, with no real means of recycling. That should all be about to change.
The Danish start-up Re-Match is capable of recycling 99.9% of artificial turf and is the only company that can do this, making a level playing field for the environment. Re-Match has developed and patented a unique, state-of-the-art technology which can separate all the components of artificial turf into their pure forms again (rubber, sand, backing and grass fibres), thus making it available for use in the production of new artificial turfs as a traceable, cradle-to-cradle solution. Since all of the materials can be recycled, it is, of course, very cost effective, as well.
Artificial turf consists of 6% backing, 4% fibre, 30% rubber and 60% sand. Re-Match can separate all of the ingredients and reuse them in the turf industry or sell the standalone products for other uses. Even with the new technology and the complete separation of the materials, Re-Match is able to cut the price of disposal by 10% compared to landfilling or incineration. What’s more, the recycled materials can be sold at roughly 80% of the price of new virgin materials.
The first factory will open in Denmark later this year, and the business plan calls for ten factories over the following five years, with the next to be placed in England or Norway.
The artificial turf industry is able to document the positive environmental effects of artificial turf versus natural grass: there is little use for watering, no use of fertilisers, no mowing, it is long-lasting, it prevents injuries and it can be used all year round. However, the data used today only relies on the period of use and does not take into account end-of-life disposal/recycling of pitches. Current approaches to turf disposal include landfilling and incineration, but neither approach fulfils the European objectives on cradle-to-cradle solutions, nor are they environmentally sustainable.
Incinerating an average-sized turf system emits about 113 tonnes of CO2 and releases other toxic substances into the environment. This is significantly reduced using the Re-Match process. Landfilling, the other common disposal opportunity, is known to leak chemical waste into groundwater, and although capping systems to capsulate the turfs have emerged, these are far from effective or even utilised. Thus, landfilling of artificial turfs is a significant environmental challenge worldwide. In some places the artificial pitches are just dug out and left out in the open in car parks or on pitches, awaiting a solution. There are even examples of used artificial pitches being buried in fields – contaminating soil and groundwater.
The turf industry is highly competitive and the focus is on pitch quality and price. Currently, hardly anyone considers the expensive removal of old, worn-out artificial turf at installation – as it is only going to be a burden in the future (normally ten years later). This is a problem as it gives the installers incentive to pick the cheapest disposal solution – legal or not – when removing turf. Legislation is required in order to help the industry down the right path. As more and more pitches will be up for removal in the future, the industry will drown in waste, and it will have a very negative environmental image. The legislation should require traceability, i.e. to trace the new turf and continue tracing it until and after disposal. The recycler should be able to prove pure recycling and traceability, as is standard European Commission procedure.
The Commission already has directives on reducing the use of landfill and on curbing the incineration of recyclable waste. There is even a specific recycling and recovery target of 70% of construction and demolition waste by 2020 in the 2008/98/EC Directive, but more is needed.
Re-Match featured on Pan European Networks