Tyre recycling plan gets go-ahead

Piet Lombard, owner of the Dungbeetle Recycling yard. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Piet Lombard, owner of the Dungbeetle Recycling yard. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

The Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI) went to the North Gauteng High Court in early January with an urgent application to stop the implementation of the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa (Redisa) tyre recycling plan.

The plan, overseen by Redisa, is an initiative by the department of environmental affairs to create a formal and centralised recycling process, with a R2.30 per kilogram levy imposed on all tyre manufacturers to ensure the tyres do not end up on a waste dump. 

The retail organisation also tendered to oversee the plan, and have been fighting the decision since last year. Their new case came after a similar case last year. It involved a technicality where the minister of environmental affairs had gazetted the initiative’s plan, but then changed one point afterwards.

The court ruled this could not happen, and the minister went through the process and reissued the plan in November.
The new case now challenged this decision. In his judgment on Wednesday, acting judge Bert Bam dismissed each point of their case, concluding: “The applicant's application cannot succeed. The application is dismissed with costs.”

Vishal Premlall, spokesperson for the industry organisation, said they were disappointed with a number of the determinations in the judgment.

“As a result, the RMI will apply on an urgent basis for leave to appeal against this order and advise its members of the outcome,” he said. He reiterated their stance that the Redisa plan is flawed.

Recycling full steam ahead
Hermann Erdmann, the head of Redisa, said after the judgment, “We are of course very pleased with the outcome, which vindicates our position completely. Every challenge thrown at us by the tyre industry has been thrown out by the courts.”

This opens the way for the recycling plan to go ahead. Earlier this week the Mail & Guardian spent time with some of the prospective tyre recyclers and Erdmann. For Erdmann the issue of recycling is a no-brainer in a world where extracting resources from the earth is getting more costly.

The culture of not recycling in South Africa therefore has to change, and Redisa is a way to start that. “People are not used to the idea of waste management. But you have to have extended producer responsibility where if you make something you are responsible along its entire lifespan,” he said in an interview at his house.

The plan for Redisa is to create collection centres around the country for tyres. These will then feed into different recycling ventures at 35 plants, recycling two-million tyres a month. While it is starting slow – the court cases have stymied progress – the growth will start in big centres and then expand to the provinces, he said.

“We will be turning 300 000 tonnes of waste into a commodity, creating jobs as well as secondary industry,” he said. The recycling saga formally started as far back as 2001, with the Polokwane Summit.

This set lofty ambitions for the basically non-existent industry to “reduce waste generation and disposal by 50% and 25% respectively by 2012, and develop a plan for zero waste by 2022”. It identified supply and demand as a huge stumbling block. It insisted a secure supply mechanism had to be found, while demand had to be promoted amongst consumers.

One man's trash is another man's treasure
A decade later this basis moved into legislation with the National Waste Management Strategy. This then saw the department of environmental affairs gazette the plan last year, before it was challenged in court. The tyre recyclers the M&G visited were not yet members of Redisa, but the new regulation means they will have to join the organisation.

A network of collectors will then take tyres from where they are dumped, like at a fitment centre, to these recyclers. And with the charge going to manufacturers, rather than the recyclers, they welcomed the initiative.

Charles Thomson, owner of Decramat, runs a recycling operation from a weather-beaten factory in Pretoria North. The tyres he brings in from mines are 2.2 tonnes each and cost R120 000 new. These are then chopped apart to create mats and small, spongy grains for horse racing courses. The mats rely on the nylon in tyres, which have so much static they act as vacuum cleaners to keep shopping centres and airports clean.

Thomson supplies all the major airports. Cupping a handful of the smaller grains, he said they protected the legs of horses when they were show jumping and doing dressage. “You can feel they are springy, which is great for the horses,” he said. The cost of bringing tyres in from across the country is frightful – he has to pay per kilometre for a licence for extra-wide trucks to use public roads – and he welcomed the idea of getting a constant supply of tyres at no cost.

But he has yet to join Redisa because the initiative is still working on tackling smaller tyres. In Midrand, Energia Rubber Tech –  spearheaded by its director Shaan Prithiraj –  breaks tyres down and converts them into their smallest possible components, creating a commercial grade fine rubber.

This is then used for bitumen in road building. Every other component of the tyre is broken down and sold, recycling 100% of the tyre. “We work with a wide variety of waste streams in South Africa and where there is excess waste we investigate the possibility of moving these waste streams up the waste hierarchy thereby promoting a reuse and recovery project rather than a permanent disposal option,” he said. 

“In the case of old tyres there is a high volume of feedstock which means it makes economic sense to recycle,” he said.

In a large yard in Benoni, Piet Lombard runs his Dungbeetle operation. Recycling and tinkering with things is something he has dedicated his life to. Truck-loads of rubbish flow into the yard every day, bringing anything from tins to ash to be turned back into something useful. And the yard stinks.

“People say it smells bad, but to me it smells like money,” he said. His innovation with tyres is a way to stop electricity cable theft. By cutting tyres in half and flattening them out, he creates a thick container for the cables which is very difficult to cut into. “We have never lost a cable protected by this system,” he said. For Lombard an assured supply of tyres will mean more innovation.

Sipho Kings

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