As the next generation of young soccer whizzes in South Africa breathlessly out-dribble opponents and score mesmerizing free kicks, many of those future Cristiano Ronaldos might already be showcasing those tricks on a pitch made of potato chip bags.
Chips company Lay’s is making inroads into its impact goals by, well, putting up goals. In a project that combines environmental sustainability with community youth engagement, the salty-snack giant is partnering with its longtime Champions League partner, UEFA, and grassroots soccer organization Streetfootballworld to provide the world’s first five soccer fields made out of potato chip bags.
For the project, known as RePlay, Lay’s has committed to using an innovative new bags-to-turf technology to create playable fields. “[It’s] giving our chips packaging a second life,” says Sebnem Erim, global food brands VP for PepsiCo, which owns Lay’s. The process, developed with artificial fields manufacturer Greenfields, takes empty chip bags from local waste and recycling, then washes and shreds them, and mixes them with rubber to convert them into pellets. Those pellets form a layer, called the “Ecocept,” on the ground, on top of which an artificial turf is placed. The fields, which cost about $200,000 to $250,000 to build, are estimated to have a life span of about 10 years—after which the turf and Ecocept layers are both fully recyclable.
The locations for the sustainable fields were handpicked by Streetfootballworld, an organization that builds soccer pitches and pop-up stadiums, puts on soccer festivals, and provides a youth soccer program methodology to communities around the world for them to tailor and implement according to their social needs. “We believe that football can be an effective tool to transform our societies by using football as the universal language,” says its managing director, Vladimir Borkovic, via email. The first field opened in May in Tembisa, South Africa; next up will be fields in communities in Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and the U.K., to be completed before the year’s end. Erim says sites are chosen for where they’re likely to have the largest social impact with a community, and the collection represents a diverse set of countries in which Lay’s are available. (Though in the U.K., Lay’s chips are known as Walkers crisps.)
Lay’s will also be responsible for upkeep and promises that all repairs will be carried out with net-zero carbon. Streetfootballworld will be the “on the ground” facilitator for maintenance, but also with respect to creating the on-field youth engagement programs. The playing fields are intended to be used by young people and to reach 16,000 people in the first year. The programs will vary according to the social needs of each community, but will all center around granting access to sports, and providing both coaching in soccer and mentoring in broader social skills. In South Africa, for instance, the program has focused on out-of-school soccer activities for children “that support education and provide access to positive role models and healthy relationships,” Borkovic says. Lay’s also promises to provide soccer uniforms and learning materials for young participants.
The community engagement piece of the RePlay initiative started between 2017 and 2018, during which Lay’s built three fields in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp, the largest in the world for Syrian refugees, which gave 35,000 people access to the sport, according to Borkovic. They weren’t, however, built using the new sustainable method, which will be important in this next phase “to increase the communities’ sense of responsibility for their environment.”