A second chance for tonnes and tonnes of tyres

Tyre Stewardship Australia is expanding to include tyre products of all shapes and sizes.

The recovery and recycling of off-the-road tyres has been a mismanaged issue for as long as tyres have existed. Tyre Stewardship Australia is determined to change that.

With more than 300 mines operating around Australia in 2019, one can only imagine how many tyres are reaching the end of their lives every year.

Luckily for tyre suppliers, buyers and the environment, Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) imagined just that when Randell Environmental Consulting was commissioned in 2019 to undertake an analysis of the consumption and fate of off-the-road (OTR) tyres in the mining industry.

The analysis (based on 2018-19 findings) found that just 11 per cent of OTR tyres were recovered, while the remaining 105,000 tonnes were left unrecovered – assumed to be disposed of on mine sites, farms and dumping facilities. These numbers only increased in 2019-20, while figures in the past are assumed to be just as damning. 

However, the tyre tide has started to turn, and TSA is rolling up its sleeves to be part of the extraordinary change. 

The not-for-profit organisation of tyre retailers, manufacturers, recyclers and collectors has received government funding to expand its revolutionary Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme (TPSS).

The TPSS is an industry-led scheme set up to effectively reduce the environmental, health and safety impacts of tyres which reach the end of their lives in Australia each year. 

It will affect a range of applications from mining to aviation, agriculture, conveyor belts and rubber tracks.

The funding for the scheme comes as part of a federal government initiative to invest almost $15 million in product stewardship for products such as plastic packaging, sports shoes, coffee capsules, child car seats and of course, tyre products.

Alongside the funding came a stamp of approval from the government for industry best practice in product stewardship, announced by the Assistant Minister for Waste Reduction and Environmental Management Trevor Evans at this year’s launch of the Product Stewardship Centre of Excellence.

TSA chief executive officer Lina Goodman accepted both the funding and the formal accreditation with a strong sense of determination for the scheme’s future. 

“We’re really pleased to have been given the Australian Government’s stamp of approval for the scheme under the new recycling and waste reduction legislation. It will help drive stronger procurement policies, so more Australians view the waste we create as the valuable resource it is,” Goodman says. 

Goodman has spent more than 20 years working within the resource recovery, energy and reverse logistics sector and it’s through such experience that she’s learnt the importance of strong commercial partnerships in achieving TSA’s goals. 

Tyre Stewardship Australia CEO Lina Goodman.

TSA has invested more than $6.3 million nationally to fund real-world outcomes for tyre derived products and research a sustainable path towards responsible tyre management.

Government funding will be used to increase resource recovery associated with the OTR sector and investigate the feasibility of expanding the scheme to include conveyor belts and rubber tracks.

The aim of the study will be to understand how best to support sustainable industries through useful policy and regulation.

To ensure the legitimacy and transparency of TSA’s work, and of further work in the OTR recovery field, Goodman says it will be extremely important to have a robust system of reporting.

“TSA has begun to explore technology that can aid in the transparency of OTR recovery and recycling rates,” Goodman explains. 

“Maintaining a single source of truth for data associated with the OTR sector is paramount for future investment and policy making.”

Further to this, Goodman adds, “a working group will also be established to build the success plan for OTR recycling; utilising experience, research and practical outcomes to drive conclusions that can be transferred and adopted nationwide. 

“This working group will include members from government, mining, research, Indigenous and industry groups, manufacturers, logistics and recycling companies.”

TSA is also working to expand the scheme to include conveyor belts, as a broader scope for recycled products means a boost for market opportunities. 

“Securing the complete tyre supply chain within the scheme will help the OTR market assess infrastructure needs, financial flows and viable markets,” Goodman says. 

“There is no existing verified data that indicates conveyor belts and rubber tracks are recovered to any great quantities. There’s potentially tens of thousands of tonnes of these products reaching the end of their lives each year in Australia. Learning exactly how much we’re dealing with is exactly the point of this study.”

TSA only expects opportunities to increase as communication lines and infrastructure are improved. 

“Currently, the tyranny of distance, easy disposal options and lack of recycling infrastructure have contributed to low recovery rates,” Goodman says. “However, TSA estimates that post the project completion mark, recycling rates will increase as the market opportunities, logistics capability and industry preparedness is established.”

In Goodman’s eyes, the perfect scenario in tyre stewardship is one where the industry tackles the issue in one particular way – together. 

“(An ideal world is) where all tyre importers are contributing to the scheme and taking responsibility for the tyres they distribute to market,” Goodman says. “Where all organisations who use tyres are acting responsibly and working only with reputable and legitimate tyre recyclers and collectors.”  

This story also appears in the May issue of Australian Mining.

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