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Cork, a good alternative to the use of rubber on football pitches

Cork is the best alternative to rubber made from recycled tires in artificial turf football pitches in line with the circular economy. This is what the scientific study concludes Global evaluation of the chemical hazard of recycled tire crumb rubber employed on worldwide synthetic turf football pitches” published in Science Direct.

The study is the result of social and environmental concern for the use of rubber from car tires in the construction of different sports and recreational facilities due to the possible presence of dangerous compounds. To carry out the research, 91 samples of football pitches from 17 countries around the world were analyzed to demonstrate the global dimension of the problem.   

The majority of target compounds were detected in the rubber samples, highlighting the presence of all polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons studied, including the eight identified by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and plasticizers that have been regulated by ECHA. In general, most samples exceed the limit allowed by ECHA in consumer goods and in materials “in intensive contact” with human skin or the oral cavity.

Based on these conclusions, the study points out that "different interest groups must work in a consensus to protect not only human health but also the environment, since there is evidence that dangerous chemical substances in rubber can reach to the environment and affect wildlife (Tian et al. al., 2021)”.

Regarding the alternative fillers studied, cork is the only good alternative to the use of rubber on football pitches that the study identifies, as elastomers and thermoplastics contain high concentrations of plasticizers. Additionally, thermoplastics and tire fillers are considered microplastics, so they can easily be released into the environment contributing to microplastic environmental pollution, which is an emerging concern today.

Advantages of using cork on football pitches

The use of cork in artificial turf football pitches has been studied in projects such as the CORKGASP of the Institut Català del Suro Foundation and the company royal green, which aimed to evaluate the potential of recycled corks as a sports surface for a warm-up area with artificial turf.

The bet on cork in sports equipment has several advantages, among which it stands out that:

  1. Cork is much lighter than synthetic fillers, so fewer kilos are needed.
  2. In terms of price, cork is the second cheapest option on the market. In addition, it has added value in environmental and social terms.
  3. Cork fillers can be marketed free of chemical compounds.
  4. Cork can be certified by FSC or PEFC, so that sustainable forest management can be guaranteed.
  5. If quality cork is used, the installation can have a useful life of 10 years.
  6. The cork used in football pitches can be recycled, thus promoting the circular economy.

Cork, an example of a circular economy

As the study points out, the cork sector is an example of a circular economy, not only because cork is a sustainable and biodegradable 100% material but because its extraction through the sustainable management of cork keeps the undergrowth under control, reduces the amount of fuel by avoiding forest fires and preventing desertification phenomena and stores the CO2 of the atmosphere

Cork can generate very noble products such as the cork stopper and also a whole set of products that, thanks to the versatility of the material, can be used in sectors as diverse as construction or cosmetics.

Similarly, cork materials are natural and can even be given a second use through recycling. The ICSuro Foundation is currently carrying out the project ALCORKE to make tree trunks and playground pavement with reused corks.