London - When the implications of the EU Landfill Directive started to sink in a couple of decades ago now they called for a lot of new thinking. What should happen to our end of life tires and who exactly should take ownership of the problem?
The Directive required by that 2006 virtually 100% of our old tires should be recovered, reused or recycled in some way – a challenge much greater of more obvious waste streams such as glass and packaging.
In many countries and no doubt out of a sense of obligation it was the leading new tire manufacturers who stepped up to the plate. ‘Responsible as charged’ some said, but if not them then who? Others with at least a passing obligation sat on their hands.
With hindsight this was a great missed opportunity because in a number of countries it resulted in a very narrow definition of Producer Responsibility. Producer Responsibility can come in many guises but I believe the model of choice adopted in number of states has impeded and not promoted real market development. Why?
In most of the countries in Europe and beyond the leading waste tire recovery programmes have been brokered directly or indirectly by new tyre manufacturers whose objectives not unnaturally have been to acquit themselves of the ‘problem’ in the most expedient way possible, thus weakening the power of the market.
The consequences of this are everywhere to be seen, not least the over-reliance on tires as a fuel and on export.
Behind the concept of producer responsibility lie two very important concepts, the so-called ‘waste hierarchy’ and the proximity principle. They are simple but potentially effective ideas.
Over laying these two concepts is a third, the Circular Economy and we refer to it a lot in the tire industry even if we are still some way off getting there, but they beg some obvious questions.
First of all what are we really about? Do we genuinely aspire to recycle our waste or just expediently dispose of it? Secondly is professional end of tire recycling just a service or nascent industry? Whatever the public stance I have little doubt that for many players their undeclared agenda is to shirk these important questions.
Such attitudes need to change not least because they will frustrate the high expectations placed upon us two decades ago revalorise what is a resourceful and valuable feedstock. It is a simple matter of corporate perspective. Clearly many of us have been guilty of interpreting Producer Responsibility too narrowly.
It is a concept that applies to all of us in the recovery chain; new tire manufacturers, distributors and retailers, vehicle dismantlers, collectors and recyclers; not just once self-appointed interest group or another. Only in this way will we end the factionalism that clearly exists and act collectively in a manner which fairly reflects the interests of us all. There is not one simple way of meeting our recycling objectives, but the watch word must be inclusivity.
This common interest is obvious. Europe generates at least 3.5 million tonnes of waste tires annually: If we exclude their use as alternative fuel in cement and other types of kiln, only 40% can still be deemed to be permanently recycled beneficially in a product sense. Yes, progress has and is being made but we cannot count on further exponential growth.
Like others in the world we are significantly over-dependent on secondary fuel and export markets. The latter in particular may not be sustainable for long as our plastics recyclers have recently discovered, we need to move quickly to guard against this happening to us, but how?
Here are my ‘high fives’:
Make Life easier for Recyclers
By: - Formulating a workable definition of ‘End of waste’
- Cracking down on bogus recovery
- Harmonising standards for safe storage
- Ensuring a ‘level playing field’
- Encouraging Best Practice across the EU
Make the Market Work
By:- Identifying and acting against recognised threats
- Rethinking the ‘command and control’ approach to recovery
- Identifying the need for supportive regulation
- Constraining excessive exporting
- Actively supporting the Proximity Principle
There has never been a better time for change. Tire recycling is at a watershed moment where so many of our long-cherished ideas and policies need to be re-visited.
Paradoxically, at a time when our recovery infrastructure is subject to so much scrutiny the number and range of viable, new tire-derived processes and products have never been greater yet few will ever get commercialised unless we create the circumstances for them to succeed. It is in the interests of the tire industry as a whole to do so.
Pyrolosis is coming of age, rubberised asphalt is an opportunity far too long delayed and there is a host of new product and engineering applications for tire-derived material.
But, new ventures demand the right commercial climate in which to raise finance, grow and succeed and our industry must do more to recognise opportunity and foster this latent entrepreneurs than we have done hitherto. This window of opportunity will not be open to us for long.