EA warns of need for action on used tyres

The number of tyres in use is forecast to increase by as much as 60% by the year 2021. With forthcoming European legislation likely to ban the disposal of used tyres in landfill sites, the Environment Agency is concerned that if action is not taken now, illegal tyre dumping could significantly increase.

Every year the UK produces 37 million used tyres. Laid side-by-side, they would stretch from London to Sydney (over half way round the world), or piled up, fill the whole of the Millennium Dome.

The Environment Agency is concerned that illegal flytipping of tyres may increase. A massive predicted increase in tyre usage combined with the banning one of the main disposal routes for waste tyres could be a recipe for disaster if action is not taken.

The Environment Agency’s Chief Scientist, Dr Jan Pentreath, said: “Illegally dumped tyres are a real environmental problem – they are a fire risk and an eyesore. Tyre fires cause serious pollution with black smoke contaminating the air, soil and plants. In Powys in Wales, a tip containing 10 million tyres has been burning continuously for nine years”.

The Environment Agency says more effort is needed to increase the lifetime of tyres, to reduce environmental impacts during their use, and to provide a range of sustainable ways of recovering them as a resource at the end of their lives. Key recommendations include:

– tyre manufacturers should develop longer lasting, quieter and more energy efficiency tyres which do not compromise safety.

– drivers should take better care of tyres by, for example, regularly checking their pressure, reducing their mileage and driving more carefully to increase the life span of their tyres. The correct tyre pressure is not only essential for safety but also saves energy and increases the life of a tyre.

– relevant authorities and the construction industry should make road surfaces which reduce noise, without compromising safety.

– the life of tyre casings should be increased by retreading them. Drivers should take better care of their tyres so more tyres can be retreaded; manufacturers should make tyres which are retreadable; and drivers should consider using retreaded tyres.

– the use of granulated rubber in, for example, road and playground surfaces, should be increased. Less than 11% of tyres are currently used in this way in the UK. Other countries such as France have used legislation to increase this form of recycling.

– the potential for using worn tyres for energy recovery should be exploited more.

Around 37 million car and lorry tyres (380,000 tonnes) reach the end of their lives every year in the UK. In 1996, these used tyres ended up as follows (by weight):

– just over 30% were retreaded for reuse (one of the highest rates in Europe).

– around 27% were used for energy recovery in the UK. (Many other European countries recovered energy from over 70% of their used tyres. Tyres have a high energy content compared with other wastes and fossil fuels. An average home’s weekly electricity needs could be met by using about 10 tyres).

– just under 30% were disposed of in landfill sites or stockpiled. (A proposed EC Directive on landfill (COM(97)105) will ban the disposal of whole tyres to landfill by about the year 2003 and shredded tyres by the year 2006).

– the remainder were physically reused, for example, weighting down plastic sheeting on farms, or had their materials recovered.

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