Earlier this week the Badminton World Federation (BWF) announced that it was switching from the traditional feathered shuttlecocks to synthetic shuttlecocks.
A number of top players and coaches around the world have raised concerns on its impact on the game itself.
The BWF says that tests proved that the shuttlecock usage could be reduced by up to 25 per cent, providing a significant environmental and economic edge for badminton going forward. The move is said to be an effort to increase sustainability within the sport.
Whilst concerns on the impact it would have on the game would taper down after some time, just as the drastic switch from the traditional 15-point to 21-point game was made before, the environmental impact may not.
Microplastic pollution has been a major concern with many studies showing contamination spreading in groundwater all over the world. Surely at an age when many sporting organisations are coming up with ways to tackle plastic pollution at their events, the BWF should have seriously looked at this aspect too.
The fact that their statement had meticulously avoided using the word plastic and chosen to identify it as synthetic shuttlecock shows that the BWF are likely aware of the negative implications associated with plastic.
Naturally feathered shuttlecocks are made of 16 feathers plucked from the left wings of a goose or duck and fixed on a cork. Some activists claim it is animal cruelty. The synthetic shuttlecocks would be predominantly made out of plastic or nylon. And other activists would also claim it is hazardous to the environment.
A 25% usage in shuttlecocks may be economically attractive but should such decisions be made entirely on finance. On the assumption that a minimum of 24 natural shuttlecocks are used in a single match during a tournament, only 18 synthetic shuttlecocks would be used as an alternate.
Based on this, for the ongoing Thailand Masters, the minimum number of natural shuttlecocks needed would be 4,392 while it would be only 3,294 synthetic shuttlecocks.
A huge difference if you look at it on the monetary savings alone. But, now you have 3,294 synthetic shuttlecocks that may take more than 40 years to decompose if the material was nylon and up to 1000 years if it was plastic.
BWF’s equipment partner in the introduction of synthetic shuttlecocks is Yonex and their synthetic shuttlecocks are predominantly made of nylon.
Nylon is in part derived from coal and petroleum, two of the biggest environmental polluters. A study in the United Kingdom found that emissions from a single nylon plant had a global warming impact equivalent to more than 3% of the UK’s entire carbon dioxide emission.
Nylon is one of the two largest source of microplastic pollution in the ocean and has significant impact on the aquatic environment.
Has there been a study on how long it would take for synthetic shuttlecocks to decompose or what the effect would it be on the environment?
Natural shuttlecocks can decompose within a year or so without any environmental issues.
With at least a dozen BWF ranking tournaments at various levels a month, there would be at least half-a-million of this synthetic shuttlecocks piling up only from ranking events. Add this to the hundreds of tournaments at other levels and social badminton, the sport would create millions of shuttlecocks that would still be polluting our environment for generations to come.
Microplastics are also caused by the spillage of plastic pellets by manufaturers and now that would also include synthetic shuttlecock producers, who would be increasing their output following the BWF decision. The physical breakdown of plastic litter also creates microplastics.
A couple of years ago the head of the United Nations Environment division, Erik Solheim said that it was important for sports to heed to the environmental needs.
“The environment and sports are more closely connected than people think. If we don’t have a healthy environment, then sports will not thrive,” he said.
Studies by the UN Environment found that mass sporting events could generate up to 750,000 plastic bottles along with seven tons of waste.
While badminton events may not generate as much waste, should the sport make a decision that would increase use of plastic.
While nylon and some plastics can be recycled, it is still a complicated task. While the big events may come up with effective collection of shuttlecocks for recycling, hopes of proper collection, segregation and disposal at other levels would be at best questionable.
Of the 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic thrown away since it was produced in the 1950s, only 600 million ton has been recycled with 4.9 billion tonnes sent to the landfills or just lying elsewhere.
The use of synthetic shuttlecock may or may not affect how the game is played, but it would most certainly affect our environment in some way or other in the future.
To help the very goose and duck because of animal cruelty, we may be just slowly poisoning them with environmental pollution.