With 26 million plus cars in the UK, increasing at around 350,000 annually, and in the USA who knows how many cars, but increasing at over 16 million annually, the world is on course for a disaster that could choke the life from our planet.
Vehicle tyres form a vital part in the safety, design, and comfort of these millions of machines, but by their very design, they are made out of long-lasting, robust materials, some of which are highly toxic. This of course means that when we need to replace them, the old carcasses will not just melt away, or be very easily recycled. Indeed their very manufacture results in an end product that unfortunately contains a mixture of rubber and steel, but also a number of highly toxic and environmentally toxic materials. Burn them, or incinerate them, and masses of dangerous toxic and greenhouse gasses are produced, along with a highly toxic waste ash.
Because of the current massive cost of disposing of tyres in this manner, virtually millions of tyres have been dumped, both legally and illegally, in landfills, old mine shafts, in lakes, as well as seas and oceans around the world. Container-loads end up sailing half-way round the world to all sorts of weird and awful resting places.
Now, let’s just take a look at the UK tyre situation (tires of course to many overseas cousins).
With 26 million cars in the UK, let’s assume that one in three of these cars will have their tyres changed every three years. Let’s say that around 8 million sets of tyres are changed – that’s around 32 million tyres! With around 100 car tyres to the ton, that is a massive 320,000 tons of tyres from the UK to be disposed of – one way or the other – every year.
Now, to dispose of a tyre as it comes off a car is bulky and difficult. Technologies for shredding tyres, and removing the steel bands for recycling are well advanced, However, from July 2003, land filling of complete tyres has been illegal, and land filling of shredded tyres was banned from July 2006. Many action groups have been set up to assist in the disposal of used tyres, but none have yet to find the best method of safe disposal.
Until recently, the only way of disposing of used tyres in any volume, was to use incineration plants. But these plants literally just destroyed the energy and raw material contained in the tyres, did not generate much in terms of recycled energy, and still produced toxic landfill ash waste, as well as needing a giant smoke stack which puthered out masses of greenhouse gasses, and noxious toxic fumes, which drifted back down on our rivers and fields – polluting the food chain.
I must say, I am in full agreement with Shlomo Dowen, National Coordinator of UK Without Incineration with this year’s slogan “UKWIN‘s 2011 Annual General Meeting will revolve around the theme of: Zero waste to burn, zero time to waste.”
A lot of shredded tyres still get used as safety surfaces for children’s playgrounds and equestrian centres, which is a great idea. I am not so sure about these flakes being incorporated in agricultural compost however, due to the potentially toxic content with in them. The playground idea will shortly be halted by new legislation, as the UK is the only country in Europe that has not yet banned this use of shredded tyres.
So – are we looking the wrong way to arrive at a solution that will be environmentally friendly, AND release the potential energy contained in these organic products? Dumping is illegal, even shredded tyres can not go to land fill. Incineration is neither an ecological nor an economical solution.
For every ton of used tyres (that’s about 100 car tyres, or as few as 4 massive industrial tyres), they have an energy content of approximately 9,000 k-calories. This could produce continuous electrical energy in the region of over 3 Mega Watt/hours, and also heat energy on top of that equal to the electrical energy. Then again, in the UK anyway, with our system of Renewable Obligation Credits (ROC’s), by creating green electricity, there would be another financial reward. On top of that, with the government incentive of 100 per ton subsidy, a Gate Fee of between 3 and 5 per car tyre could also be charged for delivering the tyres to a suitable licensed tyre recycling plant.
All of a sudden, with the correct and proven technology, instead of being a major national disaster, tyres could begin to provide far more reliable and constant green electrical energy that a whole host of massive, temperamental eyesores of wind farms could even attempt to produce – or without massive puthering and polluting smoke stacks from environmentally and resource-destroying incinerators
One thing that should not be considered here, and that is the idea of trying to use one form of technology to handle all forms of waste – for maximum returns, the technology employed must be dedicated to handling just one waste type – in this case tyres, as the financials will shortly show.
Let’s discuss the financials that could apply if the correct technology is introduced. This is assuming that the technology to be used is proven, and has a successful operational record. It is also based on the assumption that the gate fee for 1 ton of tyres (around 100 tyres on average) is £100, although the accepted cost of ‘collecting’ an average car tyre is around £4.
- A system to transfer 25 tons of tyres a day into green energy will cost in the region of £25 million, without any toxic waste, need no smoke stack, and generate an income from renewable energy, Renewable Obligation Credits ( ROCs) and Gate Fees, in the region of £5.3 million annually.
- A system to transfer 100 tons of tyres a day into green energy will cost in the region of £65 million, without any toxic waste, need no smoke stack, and generate an income from renewable energy, Renewable Obligation Credits ( ROCs) and Gate Fees, in the region of £21 million annually
Either size system is quite a profitable operation, even with the technology costs (without any tyre shredding) and also produces a most needed green ecological solution.
Not only that, with tyre processing, to ensure the technology is working correctly, you will need quite a stockpile of shredded tyres, if the system is going to be capable of running at a rate of a minimum of 25 tons of tyres a day. The beauty of this is that it will normally take 6 months to a year to build such a processing plant. With the high gate fees involved here, it is quite possible to start generating income right from Day 1, greatly reducing the usual up-front investment risks.
However, before any commitment is made, you must make sure you are satisfied that the technology works, and that you have seen a working plant.
Now, in the UK, the government does not set out any regulations for the recycling of tyres, it only authorises permits to be issued for the collection of the tyres. This has resulted in tyres collection depots being set up all round the UK, with a fee on average of 5 per tyre ‘collected’. At present, there is no law established that instructs the collector that these tyres must be destroyed in some format legally acceptable to the government.
This has resulted in a whole number of tyre dumps, with great risk of fire. What also exists are numerous illegal dumps of tyres in landfills, old mine shafts, and lakes. I am aware of one such dump made many years ago, in a lake not that far from me that contains upwards of 20,000 old tyres – all slowly leaching toxic waste chemicals into our very drinking water.
Looking at the points above, there has to be considerable scope for a joint venture to be set up between say the local authority, or another interested company, and existing tyre collectors and shredders that can at a stroke:-
1. Remove the issue of tyre mountains
2. Maximise the recyclable effort on both rubber and steel income
3. Generate considerable amounts of green electricity
4. Maximise the income from carbon credit opportunities
5. Reduce the levels of toxic waste to negligible amounts
6. Reduce the need for incineration, thus removing the need for obtrusive great chimney stacks
7. Produce no toxic ash that needs landfilling.
8. Create a profitable ‘cottage industry’ for tyre collection and shredding companies across the UK.
9. As a bonus, by placing the technology in the right locations, the excess heat energy can be piped to local industries or houses, for a further income stream.
Come on, all you environmentalists, supposedly pushing for a greener environment, here is one route that will massively improve your environment and if done properly will actually produce a massive boost to everybody’s living standards.
Now is your chance to help defuse this massive ticking ecological time bomb…