The 2020 BIR Annual Report gives some insight into the challenges facing tyre recycling
BIR Annual Report Highlights Challenges
Tyre recycling has faced some challenges, some of them ongoing, in 2020 through into 2021. Not the least is the potential impact of an EU ban on crumb rubber if the EU ratifies the recommendations to ban the material.
Max Craipeau, the Head of the Tyre Recycling Committee at BIR, highlighted that 62 per cent of tyres recycled went to material recovery, some 527,000 tons to crumb rubber infill in Europe, according to BIR.
The impact of the ban, with a six-year lead, would be devastating to the sector, he said.
He then went on to speak of the potential of Michelin’s BlackCycle project, which aims to recycle 50 per cent of Europe’s tyres. To be clear, Michael Cogne told Tyre and Rubber Recycling, that this was addressing the 50 per cent of tyres not recycled in Europe, currently. So, on that basis, the potential of BlackCycle to address the possible excess material after a crumb rubber ban, is in question.
Craipeau suggested that the BlackCycle project and similar efforts by other manufacturers would probably address the need to meet the surplus stocks after any possible ban.
That presupposes that all of the material can, in fact, be utilised. However, long term projections suggest that recycled content in tyre by 2050, might only be 50 per cent – and as we have seen from Michelin’s moves these may include the recycling of styrene and other plastics, as well as rubber.
Craipeau also alluded to the fact that legislators have a role to play. He stated; “Industry-led innovation is not the only route to creating a more sustainable tyre sector; policymakers and politicians can also play a major role, such as through the introduction of mandatory recycled content quotas in new rubber compounds so long as these do not entail a significant impact on product properties.”
He concluded; “A review of developments in 2020 would be incomplete without mention of the profound impact of the COVID pandemic. With fewer cars and trucks on the road throughout the crisis, this naturally led to a decline in the number of ELTs generated and to a decrease in the volumes recycled last year. Other key effects included an undersupply of some grades, such as rubber powder, while exportation of low-value-added ELT derived materials became less attractive owing to unprecedented freight increases.”
We should not, perhaps, be thinking in silos, nothing in this world happens in isolation. Perhaps the closest sector to tyre rubber is plastics, and the Plastic Committee saw issues with falling plastic production, leading to lower plastic recycling rates. Whish is counterintuitive, one would have thought that with a greater focus on recycling of plastics, that a reduction in “virgin” plastic would make the sector better able to cope with recycling, but the opposite has been witnessed.