Analysis: Retreads plight underscores calls for unity on tire recyling

Essen, Germany – Leading figures in the European tire sector have called on the industry to unite in the face of growing pressures to meet EU sustainability objectives, against the background of a rising tide of cheap tire imports.

The calls were led by Peter Taylor OBE, founder and secretary general of the UK-based Tyre Recovery Association, who chaired a panel discussion at the tire recycling session at the Future Tire Conference, 24-25 May in Essen, Germany

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Peter Taylor called for unity at the Future Tire conference

At the event, Taylor urged tire makers, recyclers and other stakeholders to unite around a common set of objectives, towards bringing the industry into line with sustainability requirements of the EU’s circular economy policies.

“Is this not the moment to create a manifesto, a set of objectives and demands that we can all work towards and that we think we need?” the widely respected industry veteran asked a panel including senior officials from the European Tyre Recyclers Association (ETRA) and European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association (ETRMA) – among other leading figures.

During the two-day Future Tire conference, however, several speakers from the recycling sector cast doubt on the willingness of tire makers to engage with them, particularly when it came to introducing recycled rubber into tire compounds. These allegations were, in turn, strongly refuted by tire manufacturers at the Essen meeting.

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ETRA leader Valerie Shulman and Jean-Pierre Taberne of ETRMA centre stage at the tire recycling panel discussion

The disharmony spilled over into the panel discussion, where ETRA secretary general Valerie Shulman vigorously reprimanded Jean-Pierre Taverne, director end-of-life tires at ETRMA, about his group’s non-attendance of the recyclers’ annual conferences.

Urging calm and unity, Taylor said: “We need to be focused… bringing together, perhaps, a group of people and saying ‘this is our sector, this is what we need to develop, and this is what we have to do to ensure its viability.’”

Taylor went on to say that the need for sustainability was going to take the tire industry in many different directions and that it was important to avoid over-dependence on particular recyclate outlets, such as exports, cement kilns or sports pitches.

ETRA’s Shulman noted that, as well as the tire manufacturers and recyclers, it was important to consider the end-users of products made with recycled material.

“All three should get together,” said Shulman. “We have been doing this in our conference with the recyclers and the material users for a number of years. It is time, as we move ahead, for all of us to be on the same page.”

But the need for unity was most clearly illustrated by the plight of the truck tire retreading industry, which is currently being undermined by an influx of low-cost tire imports into Europe – see also report on Bipaver warning.

The European industry, said Taylor, must try to “make life easier for retreaders, certainly within the context of the circular economy. If we don’t, we won’t have a truck tyre recycling industry.”

For the ETRMA, Taverne said the tire makers’ association was seeking support for the tire retreading industry at European Commission level:  “It is part of the circular economy, because you are extending the use life of the tire.

“We want also to have cases that are suitable for retreading to be considered, in an EU harmonised way, as products and not as waste.”

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Francesco Gori, took up the fight for the beleagured EU retreads industry

These views were echoed in a separate talk by Francesco Gori, strategy advisor at Apollo Tyres and former Pirelli leader, who said that cheap tire imports were “killing the retread industry” by being low-cost and also low quality.

“On a truck tire, this is a pity because you throw away a lot of value and you cannot utilise the casing on these products because the quality is to poor,” he told delegates at the Future Tire conference.

Another aspect is safety, Gori commenting that because when the truck drivers know tires are going to be replaced by low-cost imports, they are less careful about tire maintenance.

And while he had no vested interest in the retreading industry, Gori concluded: “We are destroying jobs in the European retreads industry. There should be a way to finance the industry in Europe.

“Unless we do something, it is going to die. This is a pity because it is the very first and most important asset of a circular economy concept in the tire industry.”