Illegal tyre dumping threatens UK environment

A forthcoming European Directive banning the disposal of tyres into landfill from 2003 will spell trouble for the UK environment unless something is done to prevent the country being swamped with illegally dumped tyres, warns the Environment Agency.

The UK produces around 50 million waste tyres every year. Fortunately, 63% are recovered, with new uses including retreads, a type of fuel and athletic track surfaces. The remaining 37%, however, are put into landfill – that’s around 18.5 million tyres.

“As a nation, we have a problem with the disposal of tyres,” said Environment Agency Chairman Sir John Harman. “And it’s a problem that can only get worse if action isn’t taken now.”

“It’s not just the person who dumps these tyres who’s to blame – it’s also the fitter happy to hand over his waste tyres to a collector without checking he is legitimate.”

The phase-in of the new legislation will begin in the next 12 months, but despite this, 80% of vehicle dismantlers, garage services, tyre distributors and retreaders do not know about the change. Only one in three businesses that use tyre disposal contractors checks that the contractor is legitimate.

Currently, there is a stockpile of 13 million unwanted tyres at sites that were never intended to store them – partly the result of a black-market in illegal tyres that are undercutting legitimate businesses. The biggest illegal dump is at Knighton Heyope in Powys, where around nine million tyres are stored, and at the Old Hampole Quarry in Doncaster there are a further two million. Across England and Wales there are an additional six stockpiles holding more than 100,000 tyres.

With 40% of these sites springing up over the last few years, the Environment Agency fears that the problem is getting worse.

One such dump is at Tattersett Business Park, at Sculthorpe in Norfolk, where there are around 800,000 tyres, previously predicted by the EA to be 1.6 million, first reported by edie in January last year (see related story). A local man pleaded guilty to keeping the tyres without a waste management licence and was sentenced to 240 hours community service.

Since then, however, the tyres have remained in place, and local residents continue to be worried. Parish councillor Joyce Grounds told edie that she is unhappy with the Environment Agency’s lack of progress on the matter. “It’s still there and is likely to be for the foreseeable future,” she said. “We seem to have been arguing about them forever.”

According to an Environment Agency spokesman, the Agency has asked North Norfolk District Council for temporary planning permission for the dump, providing that no more tyres are added and security and safety measures are put in place. The landowner has been provided with details of companies that can remove the tyres, and a number of parties are expressing an interest. Applications could include artificial reefs, reprocessing and civil engineering applications, says the Agency. Removal will cost 70 pence per tyre. As yet, however, there is no set date for the removal of the tyres.

As well as the danger of large dumps across the country, the problem of fly-tipping – which currently costs the nation £2.3 million each year – could also be about to get worse, fears Harman. “If co-ordinated action isn’t taken, the scale of illegal dumping will increase – driven by the financial incentive to save the cost of proper disposal.”

“If we, in partnership with industry, can squeeze out illegal operators, we support the existing tyre recovery infrastructure and encourage investment in markets that can reuse this valuable raw material,” said Harman.

In an attempt to ease the problem, the Agency recently launched its Tyre Watch Campaign to make businesses aware of their responsibilities (see related story).

Because of the situation, yet again, the Environment Agency is calling for tougher sentencing to force those found guilty of breaking environmental laws to take their responsibilities more seriously. Although the maximum fine for flytipping is £20,000 or a custodial sentence, in reality offenders rarely feel the full weight of the law, says the Agency.

The Agency is urging members of the public to report flytippers to the Agency hotline: 0800 80 70 60, or to their local authority. Vehicle owners should also take care of their own tyres in order to prolong their use and reduce waste.

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