Counter statement RAL Quality Assurance Association – microplastics in artificial turf

The infill pellets of artificial turf courts have been subject to debate within the last few weeks due to the problem of microplastics. In many articles, artificial turf systems have been identified as a major cause for microplastics in the environment. This can be traced back mainly to an investigation published by the Fraunhofer Institut Umsicht in Oberhausen regarding the emergence of microplastics in Germany, and by the survey conducted by ECHA in March 2019 regarding a ban of the intentional discharge of microplastics into the environment within the framework of the plastics strategy of the EU.

We, the RAL-Quality Assurance Association for Artificial Turf and Plastic Flooring would like to focus our counter statement on the facts, especially regarding the systems installed in Germany and the quantities of rubber pellets filled into the turf surfaces. We explicitly contradict the numbers published by the Fraunhofer Institute, which do not apply for Germany.

In the study, the quantity of microplastics originating from artificial turf and spread by means of wind drift is determined as approx. 130 g per capita and year in Germany. Assuming there are approximately 3,500 larger sports courts with artificial turf surfaces in Germany, which have been filled-in with sand and rubber pellets, this would mean an annual loss of material of approximately four tons per year and per artificial turf pitch. This loss quantity is absolutely unrealistic and inaccurate.

In Germany, accompanied by the RAL Quality Assurance Association, more than 95% of the public and private construction projects of artificial turf systems are installed featuring the design of an elastic layer, into which only a fraction (approx. 30%) of the quantity of rubber pellets is incorporated as opposed to the estimations of the Fraunhofer Institute. An analysis of the data and information from the market, the communities and the sports clubs shows that only in rare cases and then only very little quantities of rubber pellets, i.e. microplastics, is brought out, and only small quantities of rubber pellets are topped up over the lifespan of the turf. A quantity of top-up material of four tons per year would mean costs of approx. 7,200.- € per year and court. It can be assumed that the discharge of microplastic into the environment is lower by the factor of 10 as compared to the quantity claimed by the Fraunhofer Institute.

The filled-in quantities of rubber pellets have been constantly reduced for new constructions and maintenance investment for artificial turf over the last few years. This can be traced back mainly to the useage of textured fibers and the further development of the filler pellets. Textured turf systems or combined systems that have been offered and installed in Germany for years. These retain the rubber pellets even better and thus counteract the discharge into the environment.

The assumption, artificial turf systems would rank as the third- or fifth largest contributor of microplastics in the environment, depending on the interpretation of the data presented by the Fraunhofer Insitute Umsicht, is thus simply incorrect. The Quality Assurance Association points out, that the numbers regarding the infill quantities for artificial turf systems in Germany on which the meta-study on microplastics of the Fraunhofer Institute is based, have no validity. The derived loss quantities due to wind drift are in consequence also incorrect and cannot be ascertained.

Here once again the facts as seen by the Quality Assurance Association:

The artificial turf systems in Germany are projected and installed by 95% according to DIN 18035-7 and DIN EN 15330-1.

Due to the use of an elastic layer, in Germany, the lowest quantities of rubber pellets are filled into artificial turf systems in comparison to international numbers (approx. 35 tons). This is only 30% of the rubber pellets used for the common design (approx. 110 tons).

Modern fiber technologies (such as textured fibers) and new developments in the field of rubber pellets ensure that hardly any discharge from the artificial turf is formed and a discharge by wind drift out of the artificial turf can be ruled out.

The majority of rubber pellets filled-in in Germany comply with all standards imposed by the European (REACH) and national legislation (Bundesbodenschutzverordnung) and do not present a risk for the athletes and the environment.

Berlin, 5h July 2019

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