Tyres a wasted resource no more?

Tyres a wasted resource no more?
Published: 12 September 2006

Unsightly and unhealthy tyre waste is all around us, yet we still falter

over plans to clear the ever-growing heaps.

As a nation that loves cars, we inevitably discard huge heaps of old tyres.

Unfortunately, very few of them are recycled into things like rubber

asphalt, reclaimed rubber and spongy flooring; most end up as eyesores and

pest-breeding grounds.

The irony of it all is that at least two companies have use for old tyres 

and in large amounts too, but they are getting the stuff from abroad instead 

of using what we ourselves discard.  

Scavengers after the steel wires in tyres often resort to burning. Tyre 

fires are difficult to control and release toxic fumes and oils. 

Lafarge Malayan Cement is shipping in shredded tyres from Singapore to fuel 

its cement kiln in Langkawi, while Advanced Pyrotech will process waste 

tyres from Japan into oil, steel and carbon black when its pyrolisis plant 

comes up next year. 

Both companies say local sources are unreliable as supplies are inadequate 

and erratic in the absence of a collection system.  

Which is a waste, really, as the quantity of tyres we junk is by no means 

small – 19.7 million tyres or 157,000 tonnes annually, according to a 2003 

study by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and Danish International 

Development Agency (Danida). Two years later, Advanced Pyrotech estimated 

that 180,000 tonnes are tossed out each year, or 500 tonnes a day.  

Carelessly discarded tyres can endanger public health and the environment, 

yet everyone, from tyre manufacturers to workshop operators, car owners and 

local governments, shun responsibility over the waste. Workshop operators 

get it worst for at the end of the day, they are the ones saddled with heaps 

of old tyres.  

Not all of them can find a trader who knows of a recycler to send the tyres 

to, so they pay a contractor to cart the tyres away – no questions are asked 

on where the waste ends up. In many instances, the contractor will simply 

dump the tyres to avoid paying tipping fees at landfills.  

Clean-up rules 

Many countries ban scrap tyres from landfills as they are bulky, do not 

degrade, cause uneven settlement, breed pests, ignite easily, and belch 

noxious smoke and toxic oils when burned. In any case, tyres do not belong 

in dumps since they are recyclable.  

To clear the tyre mess, these countries enact laws to regulate collection 

and storage, and work with industries to develop markets for recycled tyres. 

Some even have a producer take-back obligation which makes manufacturers 

responsible for collecting and disposing of used tyres. In the United 

States, such efforts saw over 80% of scrap tyres (or 233 million tyres) 

saved from landfills in 2003, up from 17% in 1990.  

To cover the cost of managing scrap tyres, these countries typically 

introduce an environmental fee or disposal tax in tyre prices. In the United 

States, this fee ranges from US50 cents to US$2 (RM1.90 to RM7.60) for each 

passenger car tyre. 

Such efforts are sorely needed in Malaysia. There were proposals but so far, 

nothing has materialised.  

Advanced Pyrotech managing director Jonathan Lee says there are companies in 

need of scrap tyres but they will not use local stocks until regulations and 

proper collections are in place. “If it is not regulated, we are subject to 

price fluctuations due to supply and demand,” he says.  

It is easy to understand why these companies source for scraps from abroad. 

This is not only an easy way out, but a cheap one, too. Advanced Pyrotech 

will get scrap tyres for free from Japan, while Lafarge is paid to accept 

and burn the tyres. If the companies were to use local tyres, they would 

have to pay for them.  

In Japan, tyre retrievals are high as collectors are paid US$300 (RM1,140) 

per tonne. Because recyclers cannot use all the tyres, the collectors gladly 

ship the waste free to Advanced Pyrotech. They have also assured the company 

of 120 tonnes a day, which local scrap dealers fail to do.  

The company took a year to obtain the necessary permits from the 

International Trade and Industry Ministry and Malaysian Industrial 

Development Authority as local rules forbid imports of waste. Lee says the 

application was rejected twice but the argument that the scraps will form 

raw material eventually won over.  

But the approval came with restrictions. The company can import 120 tonnes a 

day in the first year but only 70% of that in the second, and 50% and 30% in 

the next two. From the fifth year, it must use only local tyre waste. But 

Lee intends to appeal for an extension if a tyre waste collection system is 

still not in place by then. 

Rewards needed 

Unlike Advanced Pyrotech, Lafarge has no import volume restrictions. 

Industrial senior vice-president Philippe Quemener says the company has 

since January, been getting scrap tyres from Singapore, which has in place a 

system of collection and incentive. He declines to reveal the amount shipped 

each month but an English daily reports that the Langkawi kiln burns 500 

tonnes of tyres each day.  

Burning tyres has reduced Lafarge’s reliance on coal in over 20 of its 

cement plants worldwide.  

Quemener says the company is ready to use local tyre waste as soon as a 

collection system exists, and will consider burning tyres in its kilns in 

Rawang, Selangor, and Kanthan, Perak.  

“As we need to make a significant investment to shred and introduce tyres in 

our kiln, we need to be sure that the project is economically interesting 

before doing it,” he says.  

He says the authorities must set clear rules, especially prohibiting 

landfilling of waste tyres, and make collection and elimination of tyres 

economically attractive, such as by rewarding companies which dispose of 

used tyres in an environmentally friendly way. 

He cites Lafarge as an example: “By eliminating waste tyres we help the 

community to clean the environment, but we want this activity to be 

profitable for us. That means it must decrease our fuel cost. Therefore we 

ask to be paid for each tonne of tyres eliminated in our kilns.”  

But finally, as Quemener points out, “the consumer has to understand that a 

used tyre can become a potential threat to the environment and he has to 

feel responsible for it.”  

We have long ignored the problem but tyre heaps can only get bigger with 

each new car that rolls down the assembly line.