Environment

Tyre industry gets to grips with recycling

Fiona Macleod

Court puts a spoke in producers' wheel by agreeing that they are responsible for their products' waste.

There are uses for old tyres other than burning them during protests. They can be used to build houses, road
embankments and crash bumpers, and as ground cover for playgrounds. (David Harrison, M&G)

From this week all tyre manufacturers are required to have approved recycling plans, strengthening the environment department's push to make producers responsible for their products. Waste tyres are particularly problematic because they take up huge amounts of room in landfill sites and are often turned away at waste dumps. Between 60-million and

100-million of them are kept at illegal storage sites, where they pose a fire hazard and provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

It is estimated that South Africa's industry produces more than 10-million scrap tyres weighing about 200 000 tonnes a year, and less than 5% of them are recycled. Burning them, as often happens during service delivery protests, releases toxic air pollutants. A judgment in the North Gauteng High Court earlier this month, compelling producers to comply with an integrated tyre management plan approved by the minister of environmental affairs, brings to an end the department's three-year battle to regulate recycling.

"The department introduced waste tyre regulations in February 2009 and they came into effect on June 30 that year," said department spokesperson Albi Modise. "The regulations gave effect to the principles of producer responsibility, providing producers with the opportunity to determine how they would deal with and finance the management of tyres once they become waste." Producers were required to register with the minister and to submit an integrated waste management plan for the industry.

The minister accepted the plan that the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (Redisa) submitted. It promised to create at least 15 000 jobs by recycling tyres. But in January this year the plan was withdrawn amid accusations that Redisa's appointment was procedurally flawed and smacked of favouritism.

Gazetting
"The plan effectively gave Redisa the monopoly over tyre recycling in South Africa and significantly overestimated the number of jobs that could be created in the sector," said

Democratic Alliance spokesperson Gareth Morgan. After Environment Minister Edna Molewa relaunched Redisa's draft plan by gazetting it for public comment in April, the South African Tyre Recycling Process Company and Bridgestone South Africa applied for a court order exempting them from its provisions.

The South African Tyre Recycling Process Company, which represents more than 80% of the country's tyre manufacturers and distributors, said its affiliates would have to change their systems and invoicing methods to accommodate a new levy if they were obliged to comply with the Redisa plan. Acting high court judge PC van der Byl ruled on September 17 that the complainants had failed to submit their own management plan to the minister in time and registering under the approved Redisa plan would not prejudice manufacturers.

As a result of the judgment, said Modise, "any tyre producer that does not belong to an existing integrated waste tyre management plan will from September 21 not be entitled

to manufacture, import, sell or distribute new, part-worn, retreadable casings or vehicles fitted with tyres". The judgment, which dismissed the complaint with costs, should

send a strong message to the industry that court processes could not be abused to avoid compliance with environmental legislation, Modise said.

"The department will ensure speedy implementation of the approved Redisa plan so that we make progress in dealing with waste tyres," he said. "Beyond the obvious objective of managing waste tyres to minimise their negative effects on the environment and human wellbeing, the plan is centred on job creation, the need to include the informal sector and sustainability." Earlier this month Redisa appointed industry experts, including Continental South Africa sales director Eddie Jordaan and Alliance Tyre Africa managing director Piet Swart, to oversee the roll-out and implementation of the industry plan.

The organisation will charge manufacturers and importers a levy of R2.30 a kilometre, though it is unclear how this will be calculated. Redisa said the revenue will be used

to create small and medium-sized businesses around the collection, transportation, storage and recycling of the waste. Products that can be derived from recycling tyres include rubber, oil, bricks and tiles.


Using scrap to build homes

An entry in the annual Mail & Guardian Greening the Future awards last year that fascinated the judges but did not end up winning a prize was a Western Cape construction company that uses scrap tyres for low-income buildings. Tierra Construction Projects put its eco-friendly building methods to the test at the Thina recycling centre in Cape Town, using 420 tyres, 1 800 bottles, 2 500 tins, 800 cardboard boxes, 1 000 recycled plastic roof tiles, 40m3 of earth and a workforce of four unskilled labourers to build a prototype of 18m3.

The old tyres were turned into "bricks" by filling them with earth and compacting the filling, and were dry-stacked to make walls Tierra has built several other units using these methods, including a caretaker's office and classroom at a school in Mitchell's Plain, in Cape Town. "We manage waste by building with it," said Tierra's founder, Nick Ralphs. "We are building with the environment, not against it."

Ralphs has since become a popular presenter on alternative building methods at environmental gatherings. Civil engineers have also found old tyres useful in constructing road embankments and belowgrade road fill. Ground-up tyre rubber can be used as road material or construction material when mixed with asphalt or concrete.

Shredded tyres make an effective ground cover in playgrounds and on running tracks. Because of their durability, scrap tyres can be reused as dock bumpers, for pavements and on road kerbs, or highway crash bumpers. Household uses for old tyres include swings, garden planters, furniture and hardy shoes.

Environmentalists say the best way for consumers to deal with the need to use tyres is to keep them in good operating condition for as long as possible. They recommend keeping them properly inflated, rotating them, and balancing and aligning the wheels when necessary.  

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