To demonstrate the environmentally friendliness of ELT recovery routes, the most commonly used tool is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Life Cycle Assessment is a method for assessing the overall environmental impact of a product from cradle to grave.

ETRMA (BLIC) Life cycle assessment of an average European car tyre

The environmental impacts of the end-of-life scenario (a representative mix of the existing end-of-life processing routes) are low compared to the other stages of the life cycle.

A comparison has also been made over the different alternative end of life processes.

  • Except for landfilling which is clearly the least attractive option, all end-of-life processing routes have a low or even negative environmental load (in other words a positive effect on the environment due to the production of useful by products).
  • The most attractive option is tyre recycling.
  • Incineration in a power plant and in a cement kiln has a neutral or positive effect on the environment, depending of the impact assessment methodology used.

The average end of life scenario has a relatively low contribution to the overall load of the life cycle. The contribution of the average scenario is less important than the use phase or the production phase.
Of all the end of life processes, landfilling is the least attractive option.

Case study – Aliapur's LCA of 9 recovery methods for end of life tyres

At a time when several used tyre recovery methods have achieved a certain maturity, Aliapur performed a comparative environmental evaluation of 9 recovery alternatives for end of life tyres.

The 9 selected routes, that are representative of the main recycling & routes are:

  • Recovery in Civil engineering applications (public works): Retention & infiltration basin
  • Energy recovery route: Cement kilns and urban heating
  • Material recycling: Steel works, foundries, moulded objects, synthetic floors, equestrian floors.

In addition to comparing the different alternatives, this environmental evaluation aimed at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each recovery method, and of the management of used tyres as a whole. This evaluation was based on the Life Cycle Assessment approach and conformed to the methodological prescriptions developed in ISO 14040 and ISO 14044 standards. It was carried out by PricewaterhouseCoopers Ecobilan in 2009, a consulting firm specialising in life cycle assessments, and was reviewed by a committee of European LCA experts and interested parties.

The main conclusions of the study

  • Globally positive results : The LCA made it possible to identify that, under present conditions, all the recovery methods studies provided net environmental benefits, regardless of the environmental impact considered.
  • Justified investment in the preparation stages : The study also revealed that the impact of the collection, sorting and shredding/granulation stages is secondary in relation to the benefits obtained from the recovery process.
  • The hierarchy of recovery methods brought into doubt : The LCA shows that the environmental assessment of material recycling methods is not systematically better than that of energy recovery ones. End use applications must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Hence the recovery routes for ELTs are both economically and environmentally relevant and play a role in changing the status of end of life tyres from waste to products.

(Source: Lifecycle analysis of 9 ELT recovery routes, Aliapur R&D, June 2010)