While Spain won the World Cup, it is clear that in the field of tyre recycling, the UK is firmly placed as a champion. The system used here is increasingly admired by other Euro- pean countries, which struggle to achieve the high levels of recovery managed by the UK’s tyre industry. But how does the UK system work?
Without the Landfill Directive, we may not have seen the creative and resourceful uses for waste tyre materials that we see today, such as artificial sports pitches, children’s playground surfaces, horse ménage arenas or as high-calorie fuel sources for cement kilns. The Directive called for a ban on the sending to landfill of whole tyres by the middle of 2003 and of shredded tyres by 2006. For an industry that, before the ban, sent more than 85,000 tonnes of whole and shredded tyres to landfill each year, this presented a significant challenge.
But the UK tyre industry had been aware of and proactive about its environmental responsibilities long before the ban came into force. In 1994, the Used Tyre Working Group was formed, long before most other European countries had started to consider how to meet the challenge of full recovery. The group was constructed from a cross-section of industry, ensuring that a wide range of interests and options would be considered, all engaged in active debate to determine the most effective scheme.
One of the major areas to be discussed by the group was the type of recovery system that should be in place. As we currently see today in most European countries, there was the option of a ‘managed’ recovery system, where activities are funded up front by tyre manufacturers and importers, which then incorporate the recovery charge in the price of a new tyre and organise free take back of the old product. The alternative ‘free market’ system would work more like our VAT system, with charges passed through the recovery chain.
“Without the Landfill Directive, we may not have seen the creative and resourceful uses for waste tyre materials that we see today”
The debate raged long and hard. The Government’s interpretation of ‘producer responsibility’ included everyone involved in placing tyres into the market or involved in their immediate recovery, such as tyre manufacturers, importers, retreaders, wholesalers and retailers. In other European countries, the responsibility was placed solely on tyre manufacturers and importers.
The broad level of accountability adopted by the UK helped to foster a more inclusive approach by the industry to addressing the challenge. After much debate about the merits, costs and practicalities of elaborate systems that would be needed to regulate the 200 or so tyre brands found in the UK market, it was decided that a free market approach should prevail.
While the discussions had been taking place, the tyre industry developed an initial recovery system to ensure that an adequate industry-led programme was in place before full implementation of the Directive. In 1999, the Responsible Recycle Scheme (RRS) was formed as a voluntary best practice programme for businesses involved in used tyre collection, reuse, recycling and energy recovery. Companies involved in the process had to learn to work more closely together and adopt new practices if the Directive was to be fully satisfied. The result was a charter that was adopted by all full RRS members.
The charter stipulated that members would be regularly audited by independent environmental auditors, scrap tyres collected would be subject to full traceability and permits or site licences would be regularly checked to ensure they remained valid. It would ensure full transparency and traceability of tyres collected by the scheme’s voluntary members.
The costs involved in activities such as the audit process are borne directly by member companies, putting them at a commercial disadvantage to those choosing not to join the voluntary scheme. Despite this financial drawback, the industry embraced the scheme and, by the end of 2005 when the Directive was due to come into force, the RRS had already become the largest single tyre recovery programme in Europe, collecting nearly 400,000 tonnes of waste a year. Under the scheme, which is now firmly established in the UK, consumers normally pay a recycling or ‘green’ fee to the retailer when they change their tyres. This fee, which is typically just £1 to £1.50 per tyre, is the primary injection of cash into a complex system and support infrastructure.
The Tyre Recovery Association (TRA), which now manages the RRS, is currently engaging in an education programme with consumers to explain the reasons for the environmental charge and to help remove any feeling of resentment or profiteering
Retailers pay a professional collector to remove the scrap tyres from their premises in accordance with their duty of care and statutory obligations. The collector then sorts, stores and transfers the tyres for reuse or on to a processor, which charges the collector a gate fee to take in the waste tyres. In the final stage of the chain, the processor converts the scrap tyres into a wide range of uses.
Old tyres are currently used in a wide range of applications. Of the 45 million used tyres that are currently collected each year under the RRS, 34% are used in new products, 25% are used as energy sources (typically in cement and lime kilns), 6% are used in retreading, 10% are used in landfill engineering and the remaining 25% are reused.
But these are just some of the potential uses, which also include sound barriers, river bank reinforcement, carpet underlay and rail sleepers. As part of its public education programme, the TRA is highlighting some of the everyday applications that use recycled tyres. For example, 42,000 tyres can be used to help make a World Cup-sized Astroturf football pitch or 13,500 tyres can be used to make an Olympic-sized running track.
A target of 100% recovery was set under the Directive and, currently, RRS members are responsible for 80% of all end-of-life tyres collected and reprocessed. The TRA hopes to increase this proportion but is realistic in its ambitions, remembering that the scheme remains a voluntary one.
Another area of improvement for the industry is in tackling the illegal dumping of tyres, which continues to cost legitimate businesses, communities and the environment. In response to this, the Environment Agency has launched a campaign, together with the tyre industry, to ‘Get a Grip’ on illegal tyre activities. The campaign is asking for support from businesses to report any information and activity that could indicate to illegal tyre activity.
As market conditions become increasingly tough, the industry will have to continue to monitor and innovate its scheme to ensure maximum recycling levels. It is sure to be watched closely by other European countries looking to emulate the success achieved in the UK.
Peter Taylor OBE is secretary general of the Tyre Recovery Association