The study, from waste management firm Business Waste, discovered that 65% of traders have been asked to dispose of tyres illegally, and 31% have given it consideration.

The scrap tyres are often sold to export brokers who ship them to emerging nations with less rigid environmental controls such as China. They are then burnt as a form of cheap energy, causing emissions of sulphur dioxide to rise tenfold and emissions of dust particles to increase by almost 500%.

“Just because they’re not being burned in our backyard doesn’t make it less of a problem for British businesses,” said Business Waste’s Mark Hall, “It’s an illegal trade that hurts the planet, and hurts jobs in our waste management trade.”

Bigger firms

The survey was conducted with ‘members of the workforce’ in independent garages across the UK. But Hall told edie that he had ‘no doubt whatsoever’ that some bigger firms have people disposing of tyres on the side and their employer is unaware. “I very much doubt many actually keep a record of what old tyres they have in the bin,” he said.

The survey found the main reason for this black market is the presumed cost of legally disposing of tyres. Spent tyres are heavy and bulky, and will therefore be a significant cost in any by-weight or by-volume waste management agreement.

“If a chap with a pick-up truck turns up and says he’ll take them off your hands for nothing, it’s obvious that some people will be tempted,” added Hall.

Tyre recovery

But legal methods of disposing of unwanted tyres are cheaper than most companies realise – there are often local schemes that will take tyres and put them to alternative uses.

One such organisation is the Tyre Recovery Association, which encourages responsible retailers to join a tyre recovery process that recycles the old rubber into a number of high-demand products. These include children’s playgrounds, athletics tracks, carpet underlay, flooring, and fuel for kilns where waste products are properly filtered.

In some cases, technology has advanced far enough for crumb from old tyres to be used as a building material and in quieter road surfaces.

The new all-electric race series Formula E is showcasing the latest technology in more efficient, sustainable tyres. Read six sustainability facts about Formula E here.

Brad Allen

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