Fighting pollution tyrelessly

Fighting pollution tyrelessly

From humble beginnings to a major source of pollution … The wheel has certainly revolutionised transport – but at what environmental cost? SHEQ MANAGEMENT investigates and looks at possible solutions.

It is a mystery as to who invented the wheel and exactly when this happened, according to the Oracle Education Foundation’s ThinkQuest (a learning project for students by students). Archaeologists have found evidence of wheeled vehicles from the mid-fourth millennium before Christ, indicating that this circular component appeared nearly-simultaneously across Eurasia …

ThinkQuest points out that the earliest wheel was made out of wood, progressing from log rollers to a single unit where the wood was carved away between the two outer points to form an axle – with wooden pegs fastened to the “cart”, on each side of the axle, keeping everything in place.

From here a slight improvement was made to the cart; instead of using pegs to join the cart to the “drivetrain”, holes for the axle were drilled in the frame – enabling everything to be slid together. Other improvements through the ages include the addition of spokes for lighter and swifter vehicles, and steel ring covers for a more durable wheel.

Today’s wheels have come a long way from their wooden ancestors … with the tyre being the real saviour of modern transport. It protects the rim and enables better vehicle performance, by providing a flexible cushion that absorbs shocks, while keeping the wheel in close contact with the ground.

But these cushions are also a major source of pollution once they’ve reached the end of their wheel-encasing lives. Tyres are among the largest and most problematic sources of waste due to the large volumes produced and their durability.

The Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (Redisa) estimates that there are 60 million waste tyres lying in stockpiles countrywide (many of which are illegal and unsafe) or simply dumped in the veld. “Almost 11 million waste tyres are added to this number every year,” notes the Initiative, “and for the better part of a century no one has been held accountable for this rapidly growing problem.”

Redisa has, however, stepped in with its Integrated Industry Waste Tyre Management Plan (IIWTMP), which was approved by the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, and published in the Government Gazette (No. 35927) in November 2012.

The IIWTMP supports and promotes tyre recycling by providing the required collection and depot infrastructure to collect waste tyres from across South Africa, and delivers them to approved recyclers.

Currently, Redisa has depot sites in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Gauteng. Should everything run smoothly, it is estimated that Redisa’s network of tyre recycling depots will take five years to be fully up and running.

However, as Redisa’s CEO, Hermann Erdmann, explains, tyre collection and recycling isn’t economically viable without some form of funding to support it. “To address this, Redisa is putting a ‘polluter pays’ principle into practice – similar to mines contributing to a rehabilitation fund. Tyre producers, manufacturers and importers will pay a waste tyre management fee, which is then applied to the collection and recycling of old tyres.”

He adds that the levy is relatively small (R2,30 per kg of tyre) taking into account the distance a tyre will travel during its life cycle. “The levy isn’t a tax; it’s a rehabilitation fee that makes the programme viable,” Erdmann points out.

Part of this fee (2,5 percent to be exact) is allocated towards sponsoring research and development (R&D) at local tertiary institutions. The intention is to establish further uses of rubber as a product, in addition to developing environmental ratings. These programmes examine (among other things) ways to extend the useful life of tyres so that the backlog of tyres in need of recycling decreases, resulting in a reduced fee being required.

In this quest, Redisa has entered into a partnership with Stellenbosch University to establish R&D to grow tyre recycling processes designed specifically for South African conditions, while building knowledge and expertise in the country. Stacy Davidson, director at Redisa, adds: “In order to successfully establish a new tyre recycling industry, and create job opportunities, R&D initiatives to develop new recycling processes are essential.”

An integral part of this initiative is to support the recycling programme with the recovery of raw materials from waste tyres. Professor Johann Gorgens, from the department of engineering at the University of Stellenbosch, explains: “The focus of the research at the university will be to create technologies for valorisation of waste tyres with direct potential for industrial implementation, thus creating new commercial opportunities beyond those offered by existing tyre recycling technologies.”

However, as Davidson points out, the shortage of engineers and particular specialist skills is well recognised in South Africa. “For the successful development of this new recycling industry, we will need to grow specialists who are able to develop smarter and more efficient recycling processes through the R&D programme,” she adds. “In light of this, a significant portion of the funds are focused on providing bursaries for South African students to complete postgraduate degrees in chemistry or chemical engineering.”

So Redisa’s IIWTMP and R&D partnership is not only looking to curb this major source of pollution by reinventing the (recycling) wheel, but it is also upskilling our country’s youth and creating job opportunities through its current depots and the other secondary industries that will develop in transport, production, distribution and marketing.

Chemically committed to reducing pollution

The current generation of pollutants is a reality – and an inevitable consequence – of economic development and human activity. Pollution originated as early as prehistoric times when man discovered fire, although its consequences to human and environmental health only started to be realised during the industrial revolution.

In the modern age, industrial activity is, therefore, considered to be one of the primary contributors to pollution, along with motor vehicle emissions and the generation of energy. It is important to realise, however, that pollution originates from many other human activities and sources such as agriculture, landfills and other waste management activities, littering, residential and commercial activities and even from excessive noise, light and heat.

Pollution that cannot be avoided must be kept to a minimum. In the pollution hierarchy resource efficiency, pollution prevention and waste minimisation activities should be considered before pollution abatement initiatives. Members of the Chemical and Allied Industries’ Association (CAIA) use many advanced, internationally accepted technologies and processes to control the generation and release of pollutants, which include; filters, dust collection systems, scrubbers, industrial effluent treatment plants and vapour recovery systems.

Products and technologies of the chemical industry should not be underestimated as they play important roles in modern civilisation. For example, water and wastewater treatment would not be possible, at the scale required, if it were not for chemical products.

The chemical industry strives to be innovative through initiatives such as Green Chemistry, which results in fewer resources being used and less waste being generated during manufacturing processes.

The management of CAIA member companies are committed, through the voluntary Responsible Care Initiative, to continuously improve their environmental performance and therefore their sustainability.

This is achieved through the implementation of the Pollution Prevention and Resource Efficiency Management Practice Standard. During 2012, CAIA members invested approximately R1,5 billion in environmentally focused projects, which included preventing water and soil contamination, saving energy, reducing air pollution including greenhouse gas emissions, reducing waste and greening the environment.

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