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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

A National Approach to Waste Tyres

Commonwealth Department of Environment, 2001


Part 1. Background to the Tyre and Rubber Industry

1 Introduction

1.1 Background to study

The Atech Group has been commissioned by Environment Australia to investigate and analyse the scope and nature of the tyre waste problem in Australia and to make recommendations on and assess options to address the problem.

The consultancy has been undertaken in three stages:

Stage 1: understanding the problem and the current state of play, exploring and analysing the various existing and emerging re-use/recycle/disposal options (this is in Part I Background of this report).

Stage 2: a National Workshop of major jurisdictions and other major stakeholders to assist in directing the focus of Stage 3.

Stage 3: investigating and analysing options for a national approach (this is in Part II Analysis of this report).

2 Overview of the Waste Tyre Problem

This section provides an overview only of some issues associated with managing waste tyres. A more detailed treatment is provided in subsequent parts of this report.

The ‘problem’ of waste tyres can be viewed as a number of problems or, since the problems are linked, as different facets of one problem.

The size of the problem can be measured by the number of tyres as a component of the waste stream. On best estimates, 170,000 tonnes of waste tyres are generated each year in Australia. It is common practice to use the concept of equivalent passenger unit (EPU) as a standardised measure for the quantity of waste tyres. One EPU is defined to contain as much rubber and other materials as a ‘typical’ passenger tyre, and for this study the assumed weight of one EPU is taken to be 9.5 kg. Using this terminology, the magnitude of the waste tyre management task is estimated to be approximately 18 million EPU per year.

While this represents a relatively small percentage (a little over 1%) of the total wastes generated in Australia, waste tyres often are a visible kind of waste. The high profile of waste tyres and the associated public perceptions are due in large part to poor practices that have been employed in the past to manage waste tyres. Even some so-called beneficial uses of waste tyres (such as for marine buffers or barriers on motor raceways) often give the appearance of being poorly planned and executed, as well as being untidy.

But the bad image of waste tyres has been mainly carried by images of piles of tyres left in the environment, and particularly the large dumps containing up to half a million tyres or more. Fires in these dumps (which have been quite common in the past) are very damaging to the environment, emitting large amounts of thick ugly smoke and noxious gases including carcinogens. Attempts to extinguish these fires are difficult due to the geometry of tyres, are dangerous to fire fighters and the resultant runoff can carry hazardous pollutants into groundwater, waterways and wetlands. Finally, tyres offer attractive breeding grounds for pests such as mosquitoes which, in the more tropical parts of Australia, can be the vectors for the transmission of life-threatening diseases to humans.

Legal disposal to landfills with appropriate controls can avoid most of the more extreme impacts outlined in the previous paragraph. Tyres are constructed to withstand the ravages of the elements, and the consensus of research to date is that in most environments waste tyres behave in a relatively inert way. However, no studies have been conducted into the long-term (say in excess of 50 years) behaviour of waste tyres. Moreover, waste tyres occupy landfill space which in the more densely settled regions of Australia is of considerable value due to its scarcity. Shredding of tyres to conserve landfill space and avoid certain operational problems associated with whole tyres is expensive and energy consuming.

As the true costs and risks associated with disposal have become better defined, there has been added impetus for significant changes in the way that wastes in general, and waste tyres in particular, are viewed. These changes have resulted in waste tyres being viewed as a resource to be exploited for its value rather than a waste to be disposed of. And the focus on the value of ‘waste’ tyres has been sharpened as decision-makers have become more aware of the real costs (both financial and environmental) of products that compete with products made from reprocessed tyres. Distortions in these markets arise from hidden subsidies to virgin materials where producers are not charged the full environmental and economic costs of resources.

This change in perspective has introduced its own ‘problems’ and these relate to how best to maximise the value from waste tyres. The current transition phase is very dynamic. There is a wide range of existing and emerging technologies for using waste tyres, and a number of these are operating in the market place. But it seems fair to conclude that none of these technologies (or practices as they will be referred to in this report) has been able to compete entirely successfully with, and divert the greater part of waste tyres from, the cheapest legal option of sending waste tyres to landfill.

Governments in each of the States and Territories have implemented programs and policies supported by statutory frameworks to address the problems that have been identified with waste tyres. These actions have been successful in achieving substantial improvements in the management of waste tyres. However, while it is the States and Territories who have the direct responsibilities in relation to environmental matters, there has been a growing realisation that limits may exist to what individual jurisdictions can achieve. To go beyond these limits requires a national approach. It is this realisation that has been the trigger for this study being undertaken.