Real Media joined Plastics Rebellion activists, Charlotte and Ed, to chat with exhibitors about the growing use of plastics, and especially artificial turf. What we discovered was extraordinary.
One major artificial grass company, Europe Grass had a prominent sign on display which read “The Greenest Artificial Grass On The Planet – Designed To Recycle”, but when asked about it, their staff admitted it wasn’t actually on sale among their products yet.
Earlier this year, Plastics Rebellion complained to the Advertising Standards Authority about a claim by Perfectly Green Ltd, who claimed their “Soul Eco-Grass” was recyclable. The ASA ruled that the advertising was misleading and that the company must not in future imply that this product is environmentally friendly.
Several plastics exhibitors admitted there were NO recycling facilities available in the UK, and that they had no idea where the 8 million square metres of artificial turf laid during lockdown will eventually end up. That’s an awful lot of plastic.
These products are are made from plastics derived from oil (including from fracking extraction), and a huge amount of water and chemicals are used in the manufacturing process. So there was astonishing irony and a jaw-dropping lack of awareness when a Dutch exhibitor suggested that artificial lawns were an ideal solution to the problem in Holland caused by climate change drought, because they won’t need watering.
An advantage of plastic lawns often cited is their very low maintenance, and that you won’t be needing a garden shed for a mower. This was rather undermined by an enthusiastic salesman from ForeverGreenLawns, who showed off his ‘bad boys’ – including a huge 1800 watt plastic grass brusher – which he said should be used once a week (much like a lawnmower!). It comes equipped with a collection bag to pick up some of the little bits of micro-plastics that inevitably get shed into the environment.
Charlotte and Ed spoke also with several natural products sellers about possible alternatives. Roger from Lindum Turf sells ready-made natural wildflower gardens which he suggested were suitable for small spaces (often cited as ideal for plastic), needing very occasional cutting back with a pair of shears (as little as once a year).
3G sports pitches are an expanding sector facing serious concerns over microplastic pollution. Plastic or rubber granules are widely used as infill material on sports and playground artificial turf to improve durability and traction. Mostly made from recycled tyres, this stuff contains an array of harmful chemicals, and its micro-plastic particles end up in our environment.
Despite the apparent disinterest from some exhibitors at FutureScape, some regulators are waking up to the issues, and there are signs of change as increasing scrutiny and bans begin to emerge.
The European Chemicals Agency estimates that up to 16000 tonnes of microplastics comes from granular infills each year – the largest source of microplastics – and they have recommended a six-year transition to a total ban of this material.
The EU has also recently proposed restrictions on synthetic polymer particles.
The Royal Horticultural Society is campaigning against plastic, and several of their events including the famous Chelsea Flower Show have issued a ban on artificial lawns and flowers.
The largest industry trade show, Landscape, announced at the start of the week that they would not allow plastic grass exhibitors at their next event at the NEC in 2023, citing its environmental impact, its effect on wildlife and widespread recycling issues.
Pressure group ShitLawns set up two government petitions over the summer calling for bans or environmental taxes on artificial grass, and a similar one the previous year received 32,000 signatures. Plastics Rebellion also wrote an open letter to DEFRA, but it seems the government’s stance is always market-led, with a recent response from Zac Goldsmith’s office summing it up:
The FutureScape event was also the venue for the Annual General Meeting of the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) and so Charlotte (a landscape designer) and Ed (a doctorate researcher and gardener) took the opportunity to briefly interrupt the meeting and ask if the APL would consider a ban on artificial turf. Several members spoke with them afterwards expressing support, but the Secretary Phil Tremayne said that the APL would continue to support all its members including those using plastic products, although not averse to further dialogue.
More info on the campaign (which also needs support and donations) at: plasticsrebellion.earth