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Playground@Landscape

YOUR FORUM FOR PLAY, SPORTS UND LEISURE AREAS

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13.08.2021 - Ausgabe: 4/2021

EU plans to improve the climate and environmental protection. About what might apply in the future and would thus affect the construction and maintenance of playgrounds.

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© momius / stock.adobe.com

For quite some time the European Union has already been pursuing ambitious goals regarding sustainability, environmental and climate protection. In the past few years, several plans have been submitted step by step. However, some of them have already been established by law. From the Waste Management Act to the recently introduced "Fit for 55" package, various interventions have been launched to tackle challenges such as the successful reduction of CO2 and plastic emissions into the environment. A closer look at the planned and already implemented projects shows that, in addition to many other areas of our coexistence, they also affect the planning, construction and maintenance of play and exercise areas.

Europe is to become climate-neutral by 2050. That is the declared goal of the European Commission. From now on and in future this should be achieved through various interventions. An ambitious project, which of course entails conflicts and still requires decisions among the EU member states in many areas. However, the European orientation is clear: profound changes are necessary in order to become climate neutral. Legislation has been drafted and discussed for this purpose. The implications of the changes are extensive.

 

European Green Deal - Fit for 55

In the concept of the so-called European Green Deal, presented by the European Commission on 11 December 2019, the plan about how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 has been defined. The European Climate Change Act, which came into force in July 2021, transferred the European commitment to climate neutrality and the milestone target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990) into binding law. The European Green Deal includes a range of interventions in the areas of industry, agriculture and forestry, energy supply, transport and trade, among others. The EU wants to invest over 500 billion euros from the EU budget over the next six years to implement this challenging project. Inter alia, environment friendly industrial plants, green electricity plants and climate protection projects should thus be financed.

In July 2021, the European Commission presented its "Fit for 55" package of interventions (based on the planned 55% reduction of greenhouse gases). The proposals submitted are intended to achieve the required speed in the reduction of CO2 emissions in the coming decade. Among others, these are the interventions planned to achieve this objective: reorientation of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, increased use of renewable energies, more energy efficiency, faster introduction of low-emission vehicles as well as the corresponding infrastructure and fuels, fundamental interventions to reduce CO2 emissions and an adjustment of tax policy to the goals of the European Green Deal.   One specific measure is to stop new registrations of passenger cars with combustion engines from 2035 onwards. In order to promote and protect climate-friendly raw materials produced in the EU, higher customs duties are to be imposed on imports from non-EU countries from 2026 onwards. Environment-friendly products are to be promoted, while climate-damaging ones such as fossil fuels are to become more expensive. The European Commission itself says about the planned New Deal "We need this balanced package and the revenues it generates to ensure a transition that makes Europe fair, green and competitive, where responsibilities are shared equally between different sectors and Member States and additional support can be provided wherever necessary. (...) The benefits of acting now to protect people and the planet are clear: cleaner air, cooler and greener cities, healthier people, lower energy consumption and lower energy bills, jobs, technologies and opportunities for industry in Europe, more space for nature and a healthier planet for future generations. The key challenge of the EU's green transition is to unlock the associated benefits and opportunities as quickly and equitably as possible for all parties involved. " (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/de/ip_21_3541 )

 

Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act

In March 2020, the European Commission presented an Action Plan for the Recycling Economy, which focuses on the prevention of waste as well as the waste management industry and aims at promoting the EU's growth and competitiveness. It also aims at strengthening the Union's global leadership in sustainability. The Action Plan is in line with the EU's climate neutrality target under the Green Deal.

Plastics are at the centre of the Waste Management Act. Single-use plastics are to be avoided; corresponding products such as plastic straws have already been banned. In addition, the recycling of plastic products is to be promoted, and in many areas even made mandatory. Fixed quotas are to significantly increase the amount of recycled plastic waste. A take-back obligation for producers of plastics is to be extensively expanded. In addition, plastic products produced in the future should contain a fixed proportion of recycled material. This is to apply primarily to plastic packaging. In addition, the corresponding extension to many other industrial plastic products is planned. As a principle, multiple packaging is to be reduced, as is the amount of plastic waste and microplastics. 

 

Microplastic restrictions

The planned restrictions on the emission of microplastics have attracted a lot of media attention. Within the framework of the planned regulations for plastics in the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act, the European Commission had proposed a procedure to restrict the use of added microplastics in various products. However, this concerns producers of cosmetics and care products, but also plastic grass granulates. The European Chemicals Agency ECHA has drawn up restriction proposals for this purpose. The exact scope of the microplastic restrictions is not yet known, nor is the process and the individual provisions. However, they will be in line with the regulations provided for in the Closed Substance Cycle Waste Management Act.

 

Effects on the planning, construction and maintenance of play and exercise areas

The planned microplastic restrictions of course directly affect the construction of exercise areas, because granulate-filled artificial turf is often used in this context. However, these types of artificial turf sports fields will soon belong to the past, even if a transitional phase is considered. But how will the other aforementioned interventions affect public playgrounds and exercise areas? It is clear that the manufacturers of play, sports and recreational equipment will indeed be affected. The currently prevailing raw material crisis is actually causing them a lot of trouble. The planned quick transformation of the "green" raw materials industry and additional tariffs on urgently needed raw material imports will probably exacerbate current production problems. However, the European Green Deal raises the general question about the proportionality between supply and demand as well as economic activities outside the EU. A general obligation to use recycled material in plastic products would require technologies for the production of recycled material on a nationwide level. In public tenders, products with a high recycled content could be decisively favoured in the future, which could put additional pressure on companies and increase costs. In addition, of course, there are the overall costs of environment and climate-friendly production. 

Overall, the EU's ambitious plans will be one thing above all - expensive. And this will be particularly noticeable where money is traditionally scarce, namely in the municipalities. Already now, savings have to be made in many places in the construction of playgrounds and sports fields. The consequences of the Corona crisis and increasing climate damage will further exacerbate this problem.  Further requirements from the EU projects could therefore not even be implemented. Should the transition actually become reality in 14 years, the infrastructure of charging stations only in the municipalities would have to be drastically expanded. This does not only tie up a lot of money, but also manpower, especially in civil engineering, a lot of human resources will be tied to this change for decades. Even in smaller cities, we are talking about several thousand stations that would have to be built in public spaces. The described additional costs of the companies will also increase the costs of playground construction for the municipalities. Tougher tender criteria in terms of materiality could be at the expense of creativity, diversity and play value. In addition, public transport must be significantly expanded, and cities should become greener and more climate-friendly. All this requires funds that are still not available. According to what experience has shown us, the construction of playgrounds and sports fields is often the first and one of the few starting points for cost-cutting measures.

 

Conclusion

There is no doubt about the challenges of the deterioration of the environment and that climate change requires reforms and adaptation. And certainly the interventions planned by the European Commission are future-oriented and in line with the required reform. But if they are not to be just visions, more must be done than just making plans for an environment and climate-conscious future. Both the economy and also municipal budgets, must be involved. Important infrastructures must be secured and strengthened. The changes of the European Green Deal are profound and comprehensive. It is a challenge for all parties involved. Perhaps we should consider tackling further reforms in this context to ease the transition. A simplification of public procurement law, for example, or comprehensive funding for municipalities. Because one thing should be clear: if public infrastructure and industry fall behind strongly as a result of the interventions, at some point hardly anyone will be interested in climate protection policy any more. 


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