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Labour pains: Tyrecycle’s Jim Fairweather on Australia’s tyre export ban

tyre export ban

Legislation banning the export of whole baled tyres is the most far-reaching action Australia has introduced in the tyre recycling sector for years and should be applauded, according to Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle Chief Executive Officer.

Jim says that six months after the ban was implemented, one of the biggest challenges for the market is access to labour.

“One thing that COVID-19 has proved is how reliant we are on overseas labour,” he says. “About 20 per cent of our current roles are unfilled because of an inability to get labour and the labour we can get is incredibly expensive.  

“Fitters, engineers and skilled plant labour are incredibly hard to get. As the mining sector picks up again, it’s causing extra stress on the availability of candidates.

“That’s the thing causing the biggest pressure on tyre collection in Australia – from my perspective.”

He says that overall, the industry has responded well to the bans that came into effect on December 1, 2021. However, there is some frustration at what is seen as a “lack of compliance and enforcement” for those still baling tyres and sending them offshore.

He says the financial inequity between those who are investing in capital to comply with the bans, compared with illegitimate collectors, is trickling through the entire market. 

“When you have these illegitimate operators, you end up with a market that is dramatically undercapitalised because the profit margins aren’t there for the collector or recycler. Therefore, the money isn’t there to invest in the market,” he says.

“There’s been a huge amount of government money allocated to the Recycling Modernisation Fund to assist with people gearing up for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) waste ban. For governments to invest that amount of money into the market only to see the ban not enforced is paradoxical at best.

“Before the ban we could always say it was immoral to send our products overseas, but it wasn’t illegal. Now it’s illegal. To continue to send whole baled tyres to poor environmental and social outcomes in Second and Third World markets is morally reprehensible.”

Jim, and Tyrecycle (part of the global resource recovery group ResourceCo), take their role as market leaders in tyre recycling seriously. Jim says it’s even more incumbent on the company to do the right thing now and do it better.

“To lead by example and show you can run a legitimate recycling business of scale in Australia, and to do it in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner, is absolutely our responsibility. As CEO of Tyrecycle, I take that personally.”

Jim is leading Tyrecycle through the biggest capital expansion of its 30-year history. 

Phase one, construction of Australia’s largest and most sophisticated tyre recycling plant in Erskine Park, New South Wales, was completed in 2021.

The company hopes to have a new facility in the Pilbara region operating by June 2023 and a facility in Perth soon after. 

A new facility is expected to be built and operating in Adelaide by December 2022, while redevelopment of the Melbourne site, and extension of the Sydney site, are expected to be finished by the end of 2023.

tyre collection TyrecycleJim says the level of expansion and development of both the company, and Australia’s, capability and capacity to recycle tyres would not be possible without the Recycling Modernisation Fund. He is hopeful of some success in the Queensland Government’s round of RMF funding.

“It’s really exciting,” Jim says of the company expansion. “We will make more value-added products out of tyres than we have ever before. We will improve our capability to make more rubber crumb and smaller sizes of Tyre-Derived Fuel (TDF), which is undoubtedly the direction the market is heading.”

Jim sees opportunity for partnerships between manufacturers with high energy and thermal energy requirements in Australia, allowing for a push for local consumption of TDF. 

“TDF is an extremely good fuel from an energy generation perspective and an environmental standpoint,” he says. “It’s a great fossil fuel replacement, yet all the TDF we make still gets sent offshore.

“We have production environments in Australia that use a lot of thermal energy. Rather than sending it offshore, we can use it here to replace fossil fuels such as coal and gas. We can help our customers decarbonise their business by doing that. 

“Every tonne of TDF that is substituted represents a greenhouse gas saving of 234 kilograms CO2-e and 137 kilograms CO2-e compared to using the equivalent amount of brown coal and black (bituminous) coal.”

Jim says ResourceCo is working on partnership opportunities and believes that within 24-48 months Australia can have “massive amounts” of TDF being consumed in Australia.

He says Australia is entering a phase where TDF can compete with fossil fuel on a cost basis and beat them for carbon footprint.

“With companies being pushed on their environmental, social and corporate governance reporting and their sustainability outcomes, this is the perfect storm, in a positive way, for us to start cranking up consumption of TDF in the domestic Australian market,” he says. “That, for me, is the big thing on the horizon now. We don’t have to turn all of our tyres into rubber crumb and put it in our roads. That market will take 10 years to develop. We can find TDF users now.”  

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