“Green” levy still hangs in the air
South African tyre manufacturers and retreaders are committed to reduce their environmental impact, but it is the ongoing delay with tyre recycling legislation that is hampering the completion of the full “cradle to grave” process, writes UDO RYPSTRA.
South Africa produces more than one-million tyres annually and with vehicle sales increasing year-on-year, the problem of scrap tyres and lack of tyre or rubber recycling facilities looks set to snowball until the Waste Tyre Regulation Act (WTRA) is promulgated.
This long overdue legislation is aimed at ensuring a “cradle to grave” monitoring process of all tyres, blocking illegal dumping, preventing rubber from combusting in uncontrolled environments, and making sure waste tyres are used effectively in recycling processes.
The legislation is in line with trends overseas, where manufacturers and retailers have set policies on return, re-tread and replacement to reduce the waste generated from tyres. They assume responsibility for taking the tyre “to its grave” or to its reincarnation. They recycle tyres, having developed strategies that combust or process waste into new products, create viable businesses, and fulfill public policies.
In South Africa, tyre manufacturers like Goodyear SA and retreaders like Bandag are committed to saving the environment in their production processes, but that is as far as it goes when the “cradle to grave” route is concerned. Goodyear last year cut water use by 5,6-million litres a month as part of a recycling initiative, and in an effort to save water in the drought-stricken Eastern Cape.
The company recycles waste water from its boiler house, then collects and re-uses water run-off, and finally ensures steam condensate from various production processes does not go to waste. The recovered water is either redirected through a newly installed, separate plumbing system to the plants’ toilets, or used as make-up water for cooling machinery.
Bandag, again, has a retreading method that requires 70 to 100 litres less petrochemicals than is needed to manufacture a new tyre, not to mention lower energy costs. With about one million tyre carcasses produced each year, an equivalent energy saving of 80 000 tons oil equivalent (TOE) can be achieved through the Bandag retreading programme. Retreading a typical 12R22.5 tyre saves around 75% on raw materials. The average worn tyre weighs around 50 kg and by using Bandag’s process, a reduction of 50 000 tons in annual waste disposal can be achieved.
But it is the “grave” part of the route that has been hanging in the air for more than a year. According to the SA Tyre Manufacturers Conference (SATMC), the promulgation of the Act has been delayed by red tape and legal hassles, such as the Competitions Commission having intervened, stating that it is against the Competitions Act for companies (tyre manufacturers) to speak to one another.
This followed complaints made in 2008 against the SATMC and several of its tyre manufacturing members about collusive tendering and price fixing. In one case, one of the cartel members, Bridgestone, applied for and was granted conditional immunity from prosecution in terms of the Commission’s Corporate Leniency Policy (CLP). The complaint was upheld by the tribunal earlier this year.
But there are more reasons for the delay: the new legislation is expected to create a whole new industry, one in which government is determined to ensure it is open to all and not monopolised by a few big players. It seems there is money to be made in tyre waste products.
Tyre recycling is the process of recycling tyres that are no longer suitable for use on vehicles due to wear or irreparable damage. Often, they become one of the largest and most problematic sources of waste due to the large volume produced and because of their durability. But those same characteristics also make them one of the most re-used waste materials, as whole or shredded rubber is very resilient and can be reused in building projects ranging from highways to soccer fields and basketball courts, plant containers, shoe manufacture, and many more applications.
Rubber has huge latent energy and can save on depleting fossil fuel reserves. Once the infrastructures are in place and the WTRA is implemented, power stations and paper factories may well be looking at rubber instead of coal to generate energy.
Tyres can be recycled into hot-melt asphalt – typically known as “crumb rubber modifier recycled asphalt pavement” (CRM – RAP) – and Portland cement. Shredded tyres are now being used in landfills, replacing other construction materials, for a lightweight backfill in gas venting systems, leachate collection systems, and operational liners. Overseas, shredded tyre material is also used to cap, close or daily cover landfill sites.
In fact, the compounds produced from processed tyre scrap can be blended with virgin rubber compounds, maintaining performance while substantially reducing the raw material cost. The substantial economies of scale and value addition now make it possible to make burning of tyres entirely unnecessary.
There is opportunity for export as well. Already waiting in the wings to enter the local tyre recycling scene is a South African company, Hamba Kanqane, that has partnered with Australian rubber producer Rubber Solutions to build South Africa’s first 4-t/h tyre recycling plant, planned for Mpumalanga.
The company hopes to produce 20 000 tons of tyre waste a year, with most of it for export to Rubber Solutions, with which Hamba Kanqane has a five-year product buy-back guarantee contract.
The company is currently awaiting the Department of Environmental Affairs rulings concerning the approval of an integrated waste tyre plan to continue the project.
The road transport industry is not happy with the Act as transporters will have to pay a levy on tyres while tyre dealers will be able to dispose of scrap tyres for free. The tyre dealer will have to classify the waste tyre, determining whether it should be retreaded or scrapped. However, operators who return used tyres to the dealer can reclaim their levy from the SA Tyre Recycling Process Company, which has already been created in terms of the Act.
There are people like Laurent Colrat, marketing director of Bandag SA, who see the “green” levy on tyre casings as an opportunity rather than a burden on the trucking industry.
“Not only will the South African environment benefit, but our roads will become safer as many so-called ‘scrap’ tyres are currently finding their way back onto trucks.”
He also argues that retreading presents many environmental advantages over new replacement tyres, saving valuable resources and reducing the impact of waste disposal on the environment.