There are many innovative ways to give a new life to the end-of-life tyres - in a way which is profitable both to the waste handler and the environment. This introductive article gives a big picture about this relatively new business area.
Recycling used tyres is a global challenge. In the United States alone, an average of 250 million tyres are discarded as waste annually. The figure is the same for Europe, and in Australia it is 48.5 million. Traditionally, used tyres have either been disposed of in landfills or incinerated for energy.
However, the material extracted from used tyres could be reused in a number of ways. The latest studies even examine using tyre granulate in purifying wastewater.
Global leaders in reusing end-of-life vehicle tyres are The United States and Europe. In the US, more than 80% of all tyre waste is recycled, and in many European countries, the recycling rate is as high as 100%. But in Australia, only 16% of old tyres are recycled due to the inefficiency of the recycling process.
As recently as in the 1990s, used tyres primarily ended up at landfills, where they were used to cover waste, among other things.
“It was a good practice, since otherwise new, virgin raw materials would have been needed for the purpose”, says environmental specialist Sanni Pisto of Apila Group Ltd.
Nevertheless, legislation changed this practice dramatically. Since 2006 the EU legislation has denied disposing of used tyres at landfills. In the US, 38 states also prohibit disposing of intact tyres at landfills, and 11 states do not allow tyre granulate at landfills. Therefore, burning tyres for energy is also a popular method of disposing of used tyres. Figures are 51% in US and 40% in Europe.
“Burning tyres for energy is economical but requires special equipment. Burning process also releases some harmful gases to the environment. For these two reasons, the trend of burning tyres is reducing all the time and new solutions are constantly being searched,” Pisto says.
Diverse possibilities to recycle tyre-derived materials
Various reuse applications of tyre-derived materials have been developed for years, including road surfaces, foundations of playgrounds and sports fields as well as noise barriers.
There has been a gradual rise in the number of companies which use tyre-derived material in the production of various rubber products, such as rubber mats and tiles.
Sanni Pisto works for a company that has been studying the use of tyre granulate in biological filtering to purify wastewater, apart from the existing recycling methods.
“Tyre granulate is used to create an artificial wetland in an environment built in a marine container. Microbes living on the surface of the tyre granulate remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater,” Pisto explains. The study has provided positive results.
Sustainable development relies on an efficient recycling process
Recycling scrap tyres requires an efficient recycling process. In many European countries, recycling tyres falls under producer responsibility.
“It means that tyre manufacturers are responsible for organising recycling. Alternatively, they may legally transfer the responsibility to a producer community,” Pisto explains. For example, in Finland motorists can leave their old tyres at tyre retailers without a charge when purchasing new ones.
Used tyres are collected from tyre retailers in a centralised manner and delivered to special regional terminals from where they are sent to further processing and reuse. Still, increasing the effectiveness of the use of tyre-derived materials and integrating it into sustainable development pose challenges.
“The best results are achieved with an efficient recycling process, as is the case in Finland, and with continuous development of the use of tyre-derived materials,” Pisto says.