Sparks Circular economy

Recycling football fields

 By Livia Formisani
Circular economy

What happens to the plastic we use, when we don’t need it anymore? Plastic recycling is a complex undertaking, which requires a complete shift in production processes. That is exactly what Versalis, Italy’s largest chemical company and a wholly-owned Eni subsidiary, has been doing over the past five years…

Now, the company is reaffirming its commitment to the circular economy with a partnership to make synthetic turf recyclable from the very moment it is produced.
With 13 plants, 1 JV in South Korea and presence in 25 countries, Versalis is a big player on the international chemical scene. With an industrial and technological legacy dating back to the 50s, it specializes in the manufacturing of intermediates, polyethylene, styrenics, and elastomers. These are the building blocks of the products we use on a daily basis, such as plastics, rubber, solvents, and adhesives.

A threefold strategy for the circular economy

In 2012, the company started off a major overhauling of its businesses, with a long-term strategy which would also focus on biobased chemicals . The transformation led the company to reach its profit targets already in 2015. Today, Versalis’ engagement in the circular economy is guaranteed by a threefold strategy:

  • ecodesign of products, with integrated solutions to increase efficiency along the entire production cycle, as well as the products’ recyclability;
  • feedstock diversification, with a number of projects using renewable sources and secondary raw materials;
  • polymer recycling, through the development of innovative technologies to recycle plastics and rubbers, through internal research and in partnership with other stakeholders.

Deeply rooted in innovation, these principles drive the company’s five research centers, where over 300 researchers and technology experts work on developing high-performance and innovative products from renewable sources (such as vegetable oilsand biomass), all while considering their environmental impact and energy efficiency. 

Best in the field: making recyclable synthetic turf

Over the past couple of decades, artificial turf has increasingly replaced grass in football fields and even residential properties. Today, at the end of its lifecycle, it is incinerated, emitting greenhouse gases, or disposed of in landfills, where it takes several decades to decompose.
To increase its circularity, Versalis has recently launched an all-Italian partnership with Radici Group and Safitex to produce recyclable turf. It all starts with the linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE, commonly used for food wrap) produced by Versalis, which is turned into a filament yarn by Radici Group, then into a carpet by Safitex. Instead of using a mix of different plastics as raw material, a standard practice in synthetic grass production which makes it difficult to recycle it, the partnership uses a single type of plastic.

Angelo Radici, President of RadiciGroup, partner of Versalis in the production of recyclable synthetic turf, talks about Circular Economy, Ecodesign and Mechanical Recyclability

After a life cycle of about 7 years, the turf can be recycled to produce high-quality shin and elbow guards, sports vests, as well as garden tools and accessories.
Each company has carried out an independent Life Cycle Assessment for the project, and obtained the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) certification, a standard set by the European Commission to “measure the environmental performance of a good or a service throughout its life cycle”. The partnership has also applied for the “Made Green in Italy” certification at the Italian Ministry for Environment, Land and Sea Protection.

An all-round commitment to sustainability

Versalis is also involved in a number of sustainable initiatives to further minimize and offset its environmental footprint. The “Bag to Bag” project, for instance, aims to recover the packaging of Versalis’ product pallets to manufacture packing composed by 50% recycled materials.
Another innovative production chain is the fabrication of natural rubber and resins from guayule, a plant which constitutes a sustainable alternative to the rubber tree (Hevea Brasiliensis). To accelerate development, Versalis has recently signed an agreement with Bridgestone to implement new technologies for guayule processing, with the Italian company leading product development.
Moreover, Versalis acquired the bio-run activities Mossi & Ghisolfi last November, including people, assets and resources related to development activities, industrialization, licensing of technologies and processes based on renewable sources, especially biomass. Through this important acquisition, Versalis confirms its commitment to reinforcing its competitive position in chemistry from renewables, merging its new activities into a dedicated business unit and developing an integrated technological platform in line with the company’s business strategy.
Finally, Versalis has also adhered to Operation Clean Sweep”, an international program to eliminate the loss of plastic particles along the entire value chain and prevent plastic pollution in maritime environments.

READ MORE: Eni’s art of chemistry  by Nicholas Newman

about the author
Livia Formisani