Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Introducing the carbon-negative plastic outdoor squash court!

Creators of a multi-use mini outdoor squash court made from rejected plastic waste have hailed the concept as a “sustainable solution to introducing more people to the sport.”

The outdoor structure also offers a tennis hitting wall, cricket stumps and basketball hoops and has the potential to be a low-cost multi-sport public facility which gets communities playing squash. It also happens to be carbon negative and built from materials which are effectively free.

The court is made from unrecyclable plastic (described as “the waste from the waste” – bottle tops, crisp packets etc) which is usually sent in huge quantities every year by supermarkets for incineration.

Plastecowood, a company based in Rhyl, North Wales, shreds these discarded products down into mixed polymer plastics, melts them into a thick, hot lava-type substance and moulds them under high pressure into planks of tongue-and-groove with which they build various products, which now include an outdoor squash court.

The project is a multi-partner collaboration and came about almost by chance.

At this year’s British Open, the PSA Foundation introduced Rackets Cubed charity founder and philanthropist Michael Hill to Satinder Bajwa – founder of Khelshala, one of the PSA Foundation’s Squash for Development programmes in India. Bajwa just so happens to be an ex-coach of Jansher Khan and the Harvard men’s and women’s teams.

Hill invited Bajwa to the All England Club the following week where they met Hill’s long-time friend Henning von Spreckelsen, an entrepreneur and board member at Plastecowood. There, Bajwa mentioned that some of his squash courts in India had been damaged during a monsoon and van Spreckelsen said he might know of a durable, environmentally sustainable material from which he could build him some new ones.

Discussions continued and together the trio and the PSA Foundation developed the prototype. The Foundation – which chairs the Outdoor Courts Committee – has collaborated with Rackets Cubed and other partners on previous outdoor squash projects including the glass court at Birmingham New Street Station to promote the Commonwealth Games and the court at Birmingham’s King Solomon International Business School.

Hill told Squash Mad: “We’ve had a lot of discussion around outdoor courts but this is our best economic and environmental solution yet.

“Between us, we started to sketch out a prototype and concluded that squash on its own isn’t a compelling enough case. But if we place two of these courts next to each other, we can make a tennis wall on its outer surface and include cricket stumps and basketball hoops on the inside and outside. It has squash at its heart, but it’s inclusive of multiple sports.”

Michael Hill at the Plastecowood plant in North Wales

The best part of the project is that the materials are essentially free – the only costs are the labour and energy used to melt and mould it into shape, plus transportation to site – all in all, roughly £10,000. Hill is hopeful that the supermarkets and chemical companies who dispose of the unrecyclable waste will be willing to contribute or entirely cover this cost to support local communities.

The first prototype was tested by all the project’s partners last month in the yard of the Plastecowood plant in Rhyl – and they invited local resident and world No,20 Tesni Evans along to help.

Despite it being a typically rainy October morning in North Wales, the wet court floor was water-resistant and not slippery. The bounce off the floor and rebound effect off the walls was also excellent. “I was stunned at how well it played,” says Hill.

Plastecowood also made a table tennis table from the recycled material and make carbon-negative benches for a large pub chain.

The plan is to potentially bring the prototype to the British Open in Birmingham next June for the public to try out. There’s also initial talk of siting courts in under-served communities in London, Manchester and Birmingham at the start of next year.

Adriana Olaya, Head of the PSA Foundation, said: “There are many opportunities for this material – it could potentially be a solution for full-size outdoor squash courts as well.

“It’s a great asset to communities because it can be used for a variety of physical activity, as well as being environmentally sustainable – this material would otherwise be burned.

“We’re obviously aware that this will need to be launched alongside some local programming. It will help make squash more visible and accessible, but will hopefully act as an entry point into squash and other sports, so we will make sure there are local opportunities for children who have had their interest sparked and want to take their participation in squash further.”

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