After years of discussion, the EC has adopted the recommendations of the European Chemicals Agency RAC to ban the use of microplastics, including crumb rubber in all its guises (well almost all).
In case anyone is in any doubt as to the seriousness of this coming ban on crumb rubber (microplastics below 5mm), this includes all crumb rubber used in artificial sports fields, possible all crumb rubber used in sports and play surfaces in the EU. (and by implication this will also hit the UK, and possible would-be EU member states such as Turkey). The document is in draft form amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006.
Moreover, there has been an unofficial policy in the USA that the Environmental protection Agency will monitor the actions of the European Union in dealing with crumb rubber, and this may also add impetus to the anti-crumb rubber campaign in the USA.
The volumes are huge, depending on how you read the figures, up to 37-39 per cent of all material recovered goes into sports surfaces ( give or take a few percentage points). European tyre arisings are around 3.55 million tons per annum, of which, 1.36 million tons go to granulation (ETRMA).
There are derogations for some uses (infill is not one of them) and there is an, up to, six year period of grace.
Nonetheless, Europe may see within six years an additional 1.36 million tons of tyres arising, PER ANNUM, with no obvious outlets. There is only so much volume of tyres that cement kilns can burn, and good luck getting tyres in any volume into any waste-to-energy plants without a fight from local stakeholders
Currently, Indian recyclers pay for tyres from Europe, largely from the UK, but also from EU states. If there becomes a glut on the market, as there may well be, why would the Indian recyclers pay for tyres that we Europeans cannot give away? They will possibly set a gate fee to take them off our hands, inverting the current market. It may well be that the Indian government puts the brakes on imports even harder to prevent the country from becoming awash with waste tyres.
However, if there is, in future, a gate fee for exported tyres, we can expect some countries to welcome our waste with open arms if they are being paid to take it, regardless of their ability to process imported tyres – money talks, money corrupts. We then shift the problem from our back yard to someone else’s backyard. In dealing with what is by some considered a small nut with a huge sledgehammer, the ECHA RAC may well have created a larger issue.
On the upside, the collapse of the crumb rubber market might address the feedstock issues that undermine some large-scale pyrolysis operations. With nowhere else to go, they will be able to secure feedstock, surely. Plus, they will be able to obtain a higher gate fee.
On a slightly more obscure point, existing artificial turf pitches may experience, in due course, a lack of replacement infill material. We can only speculate what will happen to those pitches needing new infill after the six-year period of grace is completed.
There will be a follow-up article on this microplastics ban when we have had responses from EPR agencies.