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Market Focus: the UK tyre sector

The UK tyre market is one of the largest in Europe and on a par with that of France and Italy, only Germany is larger.

Together with tyres removed from end of life vehicles in the UK we are looking at arisings of approaching 50 million in these categories alone. Where they come from is another interesting story. Britain has long been a net importer of tyres with China by far the largest single source of Car and Light Truck tyres at about 17.2 million annual units.

Wherever they originate they all have to meet stringent international standards of conformity and must equally be individually rated for Wet Grip, Rolling Resistance (Economy) and Noise.

Ensuring that all of these tyres are collected, reused or reprocessed responsibly is a big ‘ask’ particularly in Britain where, unlike most other EU countries we have no over-arching legal prescription (other than the EU Landfill Directive itself) to dictate how this should be done. Instead we rely on what Government chooses to term ‘shared’ producer responsibility. In other words, each player in the recovery chain shares a duty of care when handling waste tyres. Free market yes, free for all no.

In fact we in the UK operate in a unique partnership with Government to ensure that we meet our recovery obligations under the EU Landfill Directive which requires that virtually all our used tyre ‘arisings’ are reused, recovered or reprocessed in one way or another.

After extensive consultation in the late 1990’s a joint industry/government body chaired by what is now the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills was set up to oversee this process and to ensure we met our obligations as a country. That group still exists today and continues to do useful work. As well as including additional representation from Defra, the EA as well as the Devolved Administrations if it was a practical concept which continues to serve us well into the present day.

Of course, the industry too must play its part. More than a decade ago we launched the Responsible Recycler Scheme to which all Tyre Recovery Association members now belong. This ‘best practice’ scheme which is audited by independent outside specialists has survived and developed and remarkably for a purely voluntary scheme accounts for more than 75% of our national arisings.

RRS End Users 2012

When it comes to recovery end of life tyres it would be fair to say that no approach is perfect but the UK compares very favourably with other European countries on the basis of ‘arisings per head’ of population.

CountryDeclared 2014 arisings in tonnesPopulation ‘m’Ratio
Belgium86,41410.70.008
France381,00064.30.006
Germany614,00082.00.007
Italy380,00060.00.006
Netherlands67,50016.40.004
Poland180,00038.10.004
Spain300,00048.50.006
UK516,29461.70.008
Nordic States167.318.20.009

One of the UK strengths is that ‘all tyres are equal’. In some EU countries recovery programmes are brand or group specific with the cost of recovery built into the new tyre price, this approach can leave a lot of scope for marginal brands or internet sales to escape their obligations. The British ‘pull’ approach is based on capturing all tyres at the end of their lives. Our approach has the active support of all sections of the UK marketplace from our new tyre manufacturers and importers, to wholesalers and retailers and to all of those at the end of the chain who collect and reprocess our old tyres.

Still, we too have our problems. The export of tyres for fuel in kilns and finances (TDF) is very price sensitive so can have a highly destabilising effect on our indigenous recyclers. This association has long argued for more attention to be given to both the waste hierarchy and the much respected proximity principle. We also face on-going problems at the margins of our business with various sorts of rogue operator but we work closely with the EA Waste Crime Unit on this front who have recorded a number of successes. This continues to be an area of on-going concern however as too are the very high number exempt waste processing sites which list tyres as a potential waste stream. The EA clearly lacks the physical resources to properly police these hundreds if not thousands of locations and we urge that issues surrounding site exemptions be revisited by policy makers.

End of Life tyres may be technically a waste but they are also a valuable resource as there is much that can be made of them.

Today’s uses for End of Life Tyres

Recycled tyres are used in a wide range of applications including:

  • Children’s playgrounds
  • Running tracks
  • Artificial sports pitches
  • Fuel for cement kilns
  • Carpet underlay
  • Equestrian arenas
  • Flooring

In the future we can hope to witness even more uses, rubberised asphalt with all the benefits it can bring ought to be one of them:

Some Characteristics and Benefits of rubberised asphalt

Selected characteristics:Some clear benefits:
  • Higher viscosity
  • Higher elastic recovery
  • Better resistance to aging
  • Better adhesion to aggregate
  • Smoother ride
  • Better skid resistance
  • Quieter
  • Longer lasting
  • Reduced maintenance due to improved crack resistance

Peering even further into the circular economy there is also hope that we might see much better re-use of the intrinsic components that go into tyres such as carbon black, natural and synthetic rubbers, steel and oils.

What goes into a tyre

IngredientCar Tyre
Rubber / Elastomers47%
Carbon Black21.5%
Metal16.5%
Textile5.5%
Zinc Oxide1%
Sulphur1%
Additives7.5%

As you can see, the recycling of our waste tyres is not the end of the story but perhaps just the beginning.

Peter Taylor is the director of The Imported Tyre Manufacturer’s Association and the secretary general of The Tyre Recovery Association.

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