Circular Economy is a system to reduce – and eventually eliminate – waste and manage raw materials’ scarcity through the continual use of resources.
For the European tyre industry, the Circular Economy begins with design by developing tyres for both optimal performance and longevity.
European tyre manufacturers have taken significant steps to ensure their production processes employ raw materials sustainably reducing waste and, where technically possible, replacing materials that may challenge the recycling of the end-of-life tyre.
During tyre use, new vehicle technology assists drivers to ensure optimal tyre maintenance by alerting dysfunctionalities, such as low tyre pressure and sub-optimal load. This has a recognised measurable positive effects in extending a tyre’s lifespan – thereby, improving resource efficiency – and allowing the consumer to enjoy the full benefit of improved tyre technologies.
Furthermore, several steps have been taken to design tyres in ways that facilitate repair and remanufacturing, increasing tyre lifetime and reducing environmental impact. Truck tyres, for example, are designed to be retreaded up to three times.
At the end-of-life, tyres are collected and their treatment (through material recycling and energy recovery) is organized, through the ELT Management Companies across EU countries, the vast majority of these operating under EPR.
In 2019, 95% of ELTs were collected and treated for material recycling and energy recovery. This data covers 32 countries (EU27 plus UK, Norway, Serbia, Switzerland and Turkey). There has been a relevant 4% increase compared to the 2018 numbers, with ELTs treated increasing from 3.26 million tonnes ELTs in 2018 to 3.26 million tonnes in 2019.
Secondary raw materials from end-of-life tyres (ELTs) are important resources for industries such as construction, automotive, cement, etc., and the European tyre and recycling industries are focused on increasing the value of secondary raw materials derived from tyres.
We recognise that many challenges lie ahead and that constructive cooperation will be needed along the whole tyre supply chain.
We are committed to an innovative and sustainable economy without resource waste and uncontrolled emissions by ensuring the full recovery of waste-streams at highest possible value and minimal material functionality loss.
Retreading – A win-win solution
Retreading is the process of replacing the worn-out tyre tread with a new tread, thereby reducing waste and limiting the use of resources and reducing CO2 emissions. It is a safe, low-cost and environmentally friendly solution
The practice of retreading is a perfect example of the circular economy and resource efficiency in practice. Retreading reduces approximately 160 kg of waste for each tyre retreaded twice and saves 104 kg raw materials, all whilst achieving CO2 savings.
Today, European retreading activities employ 30.000 people mostly by SMEs across the value chain.
EU Regulatory Framework
EU Member States are free to set national initiatives to reach EU targets on the development of waste management policies at the national level. The Landfill Directive (EC Directive 1999/31) has been a major driver for regulating the waste management of landfills and shaping ELT management systems in the European Union. Furthermore, tyre manufacturers continue being proactive and collectively take responsibility for end-of-life-tyres.
EU Waste Directive
The EU Waste Directive 2008/98/EC includes a definition of waste for end-of-life tyre derived products which leads to serious administrative and financial burdens (collection, transportation, etc), which are slowing down the development of further routes of recovery. This was not resolved by its Revision (Directive (EU) 2018/851), as this works belongs to the development of secondary legislation that would establish End of Waste criteria for ELT-derived materials. This is needed to further promote the sustainable use of such secondary raw materials in a wide number of applications.
In Europe every year, more than three million tonnes end-of-life tyre are collected and treated through various recycling and recovery processes.
Recycling of ELT-derived Rubber granules and powder
After shredding and removal of the steel and fabric components, the remaining rubber is reduced to rubber granules.
Applications of ELT rubber granules include moulded rubber products such as wheels for caddies, dustbins, wheelbarrows and lawnmowers, urban furniture and sign posts.
Rubber granules and powder are also to be found as flooring for playgrounds, as athletic tracks, as shock absorbing mats for schools and stables, as paving blocks or tiles for patios and swimming pool surrounds as well as roofing materials.
One of the main uses of ELT granules is rubber infill of artificial turf for example in football fields. Human health assement of infill material has been carried out in the European Risk Assessment Study on Synthetic Turf Rubber Infill (ERASSTRI project), which concluded that there are no relevant health concerns derived from the use of the material in sports fields and even in work places related with the treatment of ELT. Peer Reviewed articles stemming from this study can be found at these links:
Regulatory initiatives are being considered by ECHA and the European Commission regarding both chemical substances present in infill material and the impact of rubber granules released in the environment. One of them was published on 22 July 2021, please find it at this link.
Find at this link the ETRMA’s views on the subject.
ELT-derived rubber powder for rubber modified asphalt
Rubber modified asphalt takes advantage of the elasticity and noise absorbing characteristics of the rubber. Although this increases the life span of the road surface, reduces the noise pollution and increases safety in wet road conditions, it is still relatively underutilised (a few hundred kilometres of roads in total).
Use of ELTs in steel mills
Shredded tyres can be used in steelworks equipped with electric arc furnaces as a substitute for anthracite and scrap metal. Indeed 1.7 kg of ELTs is equivalent to 1 kg of anthracite. The environmental impacts are positive regarding dust and gaseous effluents. This application uses both the carbon and steel content of the tyres.
Emerging recovery routes: Pyrolysis/Thermolysis
Thermal treatment technologies – pyrolysis, thermolysis and gasification – are some of the emerging solutions for recovering value from end of life tyres.
Tyre pyrolysis involves the thermal decomposition of end of life tyres into intermediate substances such as gas, oil and char. The economic viability of this alternative route for high temperature resource recovery from tyres is hampered by the fact that the prices obtained for the by-products often fail to justify the process costs. Under current market conditions, the economic viability of these options has yet to be proved, but they have the merit to offer scope for increasing recycling rates.
Recycling of ELTs in civil engineering applications
Whole tyres are predominantly used in civil engineering applications. Those applications vary from coastal protection, erosion barriers, artificial reefs, breakwaters, avalanche shelters, slope stabilisation, road embankments and landfill construction operations, sound barriers, insulation. This market is for the moment confined to single projects and therefore fairly small scale.
ELTs that are mechanically sheared into shreds ranging in size from 25-300 mm and intended for use in civil engineering applications are called “Tyre Derived Aggregate” (TDA). TDA is used as foundation for roads and railways, as a draining material replacement for sand and gravels, landfill construction, subgrade fill and embankments; backfill for walls and bridges and subgrade insulation for roads. TDA is lighter by 30-50%; drains 10 times better than well graded soil and provides 8 times better insulation than gravel.
Management systems of End-of-Life Tyres
Responsibility in managing end-of-life tyres (ELT) is a core activity of the tyre industry as much as all other phases of the design and production process. In the EU, three different systems exist for managing end-of-life tyres.
- Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): EPR means the producer’s full or partial operational and / or financial responsibility for a product extended to the post-consumer state of a product’s life cycle. In other words, under this system, the original manufacturer has a duty of care to ensure that the waste from the products it has created is disposed of responsibly, in an environmentally-sound manner. This has led to the setting-up of not-for-profit companies financed by tyre producers aiming to manage the collection and recovery of ELTs through the most economical solutions. A reporting obligation towards the national authorities provides a good example of clear and reliable traceability.
- Free market system: Under this system, the legislation sets the objectives to be met but does not designate those responsible. In this way, all the operators in the recovery chain contract under free market conditions and act in compliance with the legislation. This may be backed up by voluntary cooperation between companies to promote best practice. Free market systems operate a.o. in Austria, Switzerland, Germany and the UK. The UK operates a “managed free market” system as ELT collectors and treatment operators have to report to national authorities.
- Tax system: The last model for managing ELTs is the tax system, applied in Denmark and Croatia. Under the tax system, each country is responsible for the management of ELTs. It is financed by a tax levied on tyre producers and subsequently passed on to the consumer.
In whichever market, the tyre companies are willing to ensure that their end-of-life tyre arisings are accounted for and dealt with in an environmentally sound way. The producer is responsible for ensuring that his products have a suitable recycling and recovery route.