Old tyres – A new local solution to a global challenge

The equivalent of almost 1.5 billion passenger car tyres are discarded globally every year. That’s 13.5 million tonnes of scrap tyres that need to be disposed of each year.

Is it any surprise that there are desert tyre dumps that can be identified from space?

While the global number is mind boggling, it’s not something many drivers would think about when buying new tyres. In Australia alone, we dispose of over 50 million tyres every year, and, so far less than 10% of them are locally recycled.

In Australia we dispose of over 50 million tyres every year and less than 10% of them are locally recycled

Aside from being unsightly, giant tyre piles are a major fire risk. They also have the potential to release highly toxic gases and can become breeding grounds for vermin and mosquitoes. Given Australia’s warm climate,  major tyre dumps are a significant safety and environmental concern as some contain millions of tyres.

giant tyre piles are a major fire risk, can release highly toxic gases and even become breeding grounds for vermin and mosquitoes

Just dumping tyres also presents a major lost economic opportunity. Properly recycled waste tyres can provide the raw material for many products for both industrial and commercial use.

That is why the tyre industry, with the support of Federal and State Governments has created Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) and given the organisation three main goals:

  1. To create an audit backed tyre product stewardship scheme with a clearly publicised accreditation program
  2. To educate, inform and engage with the industry and the public about the positive steps taken to address the challenge
  3. To support R&D endeavours focussed on finding more value and job creating uses for recycled-tyre-derived raw materials
Logo for TyreStewardship Australia

TSA was launched in early 2014 by then Federal Environment Minster, Greg Hunt. TSA brings together market competitors to focus on how best to increase the proportion of waste tyres effectively recycled in Australia.  It ensures that any rogue operators find it increasingly difficult to pollute our environment, or dispose of tyres unlawfully or unsustainably.

With a global and national problem of such scale it can be easy for an individual consumer to feel as if they can have no impact. The fact is, TSA has made it possible for Australian tyre consumers to collectively have an impact. Through a 25 cent a tyre levy on all new tyres sold by participating brands, TSA is funding the creation of the accreditation scheme, a public information and advertising campaign and has already invested over $1.5 million in research and development projects, ranging from rubber road seal to more stable mining explosives using recycled rubber.

anyone can make a difference with a 25 cent a tyre levy on new tyres sold by participating brands

It is worth noting that in the USA over 12 million tyres annually (out of the over 290 million they dispose of each year) are recycled for use in rubberised asphalt that is laid on the roads of states such as California, Arizona, Florida, Texas and South Carolina. These are States with climatic conditions not dissimilar and sometimes even harsher than in most of Australia.

in the USA, over 12 million tyres  are recycled annually for use in rubberised asphalt on the roads – over 290 million are dispose of

While USA rubberised asphalt usage may seem like a small percentage of total waste tyres, it is a percentage that is growing fast due to the noise, safety and durability benefits of rubberised asphalt. Further research into road opportunities and applications in this country is just one of the areas TSA is working in.

There are now over 1200 TSA Accredited Tyre retailers nation-wide. Retail chains such as RACV Show Your Card & Save member, Beaurepaires, (current at August 2016) are represented.  As are tyre brands, Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear-Dunlop, Kumho, Michelin, Pirelli, Toyo and Yokohama (a full list of TSA partners can be found here.  When buyers see a TSA accreditation sign they can be assured that those retailers are having their waste tyres managed in a sustainable manner, by TSA accredited collectors and recyclers.

tonnes of scrap tyres that need to be disposed of each year

The Australian approach to addressing this global waste issue is one that has seen the tyre industry take the initiative, with government support, rather than having a mandatory scheme imposed on both industry and consumers by government regulation. The result is that the industry is actively pushing every part of the supply and disposal chain to participate in the cooperative effort to address the challenge.

It is an approach similar to the successful efforts of the UK Tyre Industry Federation’s Responsible Recycler Scheme which also instituted and accreditation scheme, backed by full traceability and an audit program, which now accounts for some 45 million waste tyres per year.

Buying tyres is not the most exciting activity for most people. For most it falls into the category of what marketers call ‘grudge purchases’. Such purchases are usually driven by price and convenience and with tyres most would probably also give a passing thought (justifiably) to safety. Now, by choosing from TSA accredited retailers, Australian consumers can also show they care about environmental concerns.

Given the scale, neither the global or the national waste tyre challenge will be easy to meet. It will require years of education, investment and industry commitment. However, the opportunity exists to turn a waste challenge into new green industry opportunities.

Developed countries have a responsibility to show the way in dealing with environmental challenges. We have the resources, the technology and the public will to support the development of green solutions to formerly intransigent problems.

The solutions that we develop will offer less developed nations opportunities to affordably and perhaps profitably deal with an environmental challenge that up to now has been so big that it can be seen from outside of our planet yet so hidden that most of us have probably never given it a second thought.

Written by Chris Bourke, Environmental Programs Officer
November 04, 2016