Seeking to reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up in landfills, a project funded by the Valencian Innovation Agency in Spain is developing new approaches to artificial turf recycling. The project, called Reciturf, is led by Spanish plastics technology centre Aimplas, who is working in collaboration with waste management company Acteo and Realturf, a manufacturer of artificial turf.
Currently, when synthetic playing field reach the end of life, usually around five to ten years after they have been used, they are disposed of in landfills or are incinerated. Up to now, recycling has not been a viable option, due to their composution: artificial turf systems are made up of different types of plastic, each of which melts at a different temperature and has a different viscosity. Moreover, the secondary backing tends to be made of polyurethane or latex, both of which are thermoset materials. The only truly recyclable component at this time is the rubber, which is used as infill material.
As Europe moves toward a more circular economy for plastics, the need to develop an alternative disposal route has grown.
The Reciturf project is seeking to investigate whether - through the use of innovative waste processing methods - these artificial turf systems can be recycled, their constituent materials recovered and potentially used to produce new playing fields.
Among the processes being explored are biological/enzymatic degradation and chemical recycling - glycolysis - of the polyurethane backing. This will enable the various materials in the artificial turf system to be separated, and then mechanically recycled. Such an approach would ensure recovery of the PP, PET and polyurethane components of this product.
The concrete deliverables from this project will be a demo sample produced with the materials obtained and an economic assessment of the project. In addition, the project also targets the entire value chain with the aim of making industrial implementation possible.
This project is in line with the new circular economy model, as well as SDG 9 on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13 on Climate Action.