Within Tenerife’s green project, which in the 90s provided the majority of the Island’s football fields with artificial grass, there is a need to replace the rubber, the surface component in almost all cases, classified by the European Union as “highly polluting”. The consulted municipalities are aware of the issue, but are postponing the solution due to the eight-year threshold proposed by the threat. However, there is consensus in changing the material in new infrastructures, something that specialized companies have been working on for some time.
Europe declares “total war” on fields with artificial grass with rubber, “a major source of pollution” with harmful effects when released into the environment. The new EU Regulation 2023/2055 by the European Commission prohibits the production and commercialization of microplastics used as a substrate in artificial grass fields. There are around 264 installations of this type in the Canary Islands, with over a hundred in Tenerife. To obtain the required approval, the rubber must be removed. There is no alternative.
The specialized company Domo Sports Grass issued a public statement rejecting “the confusion and certain social alarm” in what has been publicly disclosed. They insist that “this restriction does not affect the artificial grass itself, but only the rubber granulate used as infill performance installed on the surface of the systems.” They indicate that what has been under discussion since 2021 until its final approval last year “has been a moratorium or transition period for its application, finally established at eight years.” This means that, until September 2031, “it will be possible to install artificial grass systems with fillers considered as microplastics. From that moment, “new fields containing this type of granules in their fillers will not be possible.” They emphasize: “They can be installed without any problem with other types of alternative fillers.” In fact, they explain, “these have been available for years and are already installed regularly.” In summary, “the new restriction will not immediately affect the use of these fields or their maintenance.” Also “as an important fact, after September 2031, the use of artificial turf football fields installed prior to or during the moratorium period containing these microplastic granules will not be prohibited, nor will their replacement be mandatory.” Therefore, “they can be used throughout their useful life, between 12 and 14 more years, most likely,” they conclude.
In any case, specialized companies recommend to project developers, owners, or facility managers “to incorporate containment systems that minimize the rubber granulate filling.” The artificial turf industry introduces a proposal for systems with alternative filling materials of organic origin and therefore natural. Such as 100% cork or mixtures of the latter with coconut husk fibers.
The Sports Councillor of the Cabildo – the administration that promoted the surface change in the 90s – Yolanda Moliné, specifies that “we only have two fields, both of natural grass, the Heliodoro and the Tíncer Athletics Centre.” She opens the possibility of assisting municipalities, the majority owners of the fields, with an undefined formula, although “at the moment it is not a priority action.”
The municipality of La Laguna has 14 11-a-side football fields and 10 7-a-side artificial grass fields, plus the natural grass field Francisco Peraza. The spokesperson for the Autonomous Sports Organization (OAD), Badel Albelo, explains that “we are already working on addressing the situation of the prohibition of microplastics due to rubber.” It should be noted, he points out, “that the prohibition affects the turf due to a matter of measurement.”
Indeed, a thickness of less than eight millimeters is considered microplastic. “Conversations with suppliers to change the material are already underway,” says the councillor. New, biodegradable options such as coconut husk mixed with sand or olive pip husk are being considered. In 2024, La Laguna carried out works on six football fields. In 2025, 2026, and 2027, Albelo says, “we will continue with all the installations that require new artificial turf. The technical specifications will have to be prepared with the incorporation of these new materials. The councillor concludes: “We have until 2031 as the deadline if we want to change all the surfaces and we are working to find the solution through an alternative material with a budget already planned for 2024.”
The southern municipality has six artificial turf fields and two natural grass fields. The idea for 2024 is to start drafting, or executing if necessary, the projects for the renovation of the football fields Clementina de Bello in Buzanada, José Antonio Fumero in Cabo Blanco, and the Anexo Antonio Domínguez in Playa de Las Américas. The replacement of the irrigation sprinkler system in Buzanada, Cabo Blanco, Óscar Pérez Barrios in Valle San Lorenzo, and Fernando Pérez in Arona will also be carried out. Nothing is planned regarding the possibility of changing the surface, which will be considered “later on.”
In Adeje, there are three football fields with artificial grass: Adeje, Fañabé, and Armeñime. The municipal installation even has a FIFA certificate accrediting its homologation, after being installed three years ago by OPSA S.A. (Obras y Pavimentos Especiales SA) following a public tender.
An Alternative for Santa Cruz
“All artificial grass fields in Santa Cruz have rubber,” says the Sports Councillor of the capital, Alicia Cebrián. She adds that they are in talks with manufacturers who offer a natural alternative material, “still in the testing phase.” The city has 17 municipal fields, three of which are currently under construction: Juan Santamaría, La Salud, and Las Delicias. The facilities, she values, “were built many years ago and there was no alternative to rubber at that time.” The next fields to be renovated and improved “must already have that alternative material.” This is the case for the next three, García Escámez, Los Gladiolos, and El Tablero, with works to be carried out next year. The priority is “the most deteriorated ones.” The councillor concludes: “We must seek an alternative for the upcoming fields.” | J.D.M.