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
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.
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.
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.