Whole bale delay, missed opportunity: Tyrecycle

New regulations banning the export of baled waste tyres will force Australian businesses to deal with rubber waste responsibly, but not soon enough, according to industry experts.

While the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) announced impending export bans for plastics, paper, glass, and tyres in August, implementation timelines were only agreed to in November.

The agreement to a phased introduction with staggered timelines across the four categories means the export of whole baled tyres is still two years away – a move that has surprised and disappointed industry leaders and waste sector bodies.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says while the company welcomes the ban, the two-year implementation delay is not only disappointing, but a missed opportunity.

“To learn the ban specific to whole baled tyres won’t be implemented until December 2021, six months after plastics which are far more challenging, seems nonsensical,” he says.

According to Jim, not only is there sufficient domestic processing capacity for end-of-life tyres already, but existing local and overseas markets for recycled tyre products.

“We already have the capability to recycle tyres for use in asphalt for road surfacing, in tile adhesive, in soft fall and sporting surfaces and as tyre-derived fuels to replace fossil fuel use,” Jim says.

“A ban, implemented sooner rather than later, stands to create local jobs, attract investment in domestic infrastructure and technology, and position Australia as a global leader in the circular economy.”

It’s a view shared by Pete Shmigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, who says it’s regretful that clear opportunities – like the immediate ban on whole baled tyre exports – had been missed.

“A recent report commissioned by the Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) demonstrated there are readily available markets for the material, and serious environmental impacts from their continued export for a further two years,” he says.

“It’s hard to understand why banning whole baled tyres has not been prioritised, as the report produced ample evidence on the environmental and human health impacts of exports, the existing domestic capacity for the reprocessing and the legal avenues available.”

Pete adds that Australia has enough capacity within the existing sector to recycle all the material currently exported as bales, and in the process, create over 90 new jobs.

“There is no need to delay – all we need is a commitment to increased levels of domestic procurement for tyre-derived products,” he says.

Rose Read, National Waste and Recycling Industry Council CEO, agrees, arguing that the ban should be brought forward to July 2020, in parallel with glass.

“The potential harm to humans and the environment by exporting whole baled tyres is significant, and there is ample capacity domestically to process these into value added products including crumb rubber and clean fuels,” Rose explains.

“It also seems counterintuitive for environment ministers to give more time for the banning of waste tyres [December 2021] than plastics [June 2021].”

Rose says while NWRIC supports the ban’s intent, for Australia to manage its waste at home and for the ban to achieve its objectives, Australia’s resource recovery industry needs to be stimulated simultaneously.

“Domestic markets for remanufactured materials have plenty of scope to expand, particularly those dealing with plastics and tyres,” she says.

“These waste streams are already remanufactured in applications such as infrastructure projects and the development of high-quality engineered fuel – what we now need is to increase local market demand.”

Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association Australia CEO, says for the ban to work, it’s critical that it’s backed by strong policies, regulations and funding.

“We need to see commitment to a funding strategy that will create domestic remanufacturing capacity and market demand for our materials, which in turn will create local jobs,” Gayle says.

“Positive procurement by governments and businesses, along with consumer demand for products with recycled content, will drive further development in the domestic market.”

ATRA predicts that the delayed timeline will leave the door open for the continued exportation of roughly     70, 000 tonnes of whole baled tyres per year, most of which is either burnt in the open or in highly polluting pyrolysis operations in India and Malaysia.

Rob Kelman, ATRA Executive Officer, advises however that Indian authorities are currently refusing authorisation for any pyrolysis imports.

“India’s Green Tribunal is leaning toward banning any imports of whole tyres that would be used in batch pyrolysis reactors,” Rob says.

“Surely, it’s a far more ethical and environmentally responsible approach for Australia to act first.”

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Cleaning up a legacy stockpile

Tyrecycle’s Jim Fairweather explains the strategic planning required to clean up one of Australia’s largest tyre stockpiles in regional Victoria.

One of Australia’s largest tyre stockpiles, located within metres of homes and businesses in Victoria, was this year cleaned up by the Victorian Government.

The government at the end of last year appointed Tyrecycle, one of the country’s most experienced tyre recyclers, for the clean-up operation, with the site now deemed safe.

Over 44 operational days, Tyrecycle removed a 5200 tonne stockpile, equivalent to 500,000 tyres, at Numurkah near Shepparton, which posed an extreme fire, health and safety risk to local residents. The total transformation of the site saw 334 truckloads of tyre waste removed over this period.

The company worked closely with Moira Shire Council along with the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), which used its powers to enter the site late last year under the Environment Protection Act 1970.

The EPA introduced tighter controls for waste tyre storage in 2015, prompting a significant reduction in the number of known stockpiles across Victoria, with Numurkah being one of the legacy sites.

The Environment Protection Act 1970 requires scheduled premises to be licensed, with requirements for onsite firefighting resources, limits on the size of the piles and minimum distances between and around them. Stockpiles of more than 40 tonnes or 5000 equivalent passenger car units of waste tyres are scheduled premises under the regulations.

EPA CEO Dr Cathy Wilkinson said the site was an unacceptable fire, environmental and human health risk.

Tyrecycle began work on cleaning up the site in December 2018 under the control and guidance of the EPA and Moira Shire Council.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says that the company was transporting 125 tonnes of end-of-life tyres per day from Numurkah to Tyrecycle’s EPA-licensed processing facility in Melbourne at Somerton, where they were cleaned, sorted and shredded for recycling.

“Tyrecycle ramped up its Melbourne facility to a 24/7 operation for the project and doubled its processing capability to remove the huge amount of waste tyres in the most efficient and time effective way,” Jim says.

“We increased our staffing levels to handle the waste, with most of each delivery being processed within 24 hours.”

According to the CFA and EPA, the consequences of a fire at the Numurkah site would have been catastrophic to the local community with air quality impacted and the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface waters.

“It was a great outcome for the local residents, to help them feel safe again after a decade of uncertainty. It was made possible due to the collaborative efforts between the Victorian Government, authorities and industry – working together,” Jim says.

The EPA conducted site inspections at Tyrecycle’s Somerton facility during the transportation and processing phase of the waste tyres from Numurkah.

Jim says that Tyrecycle is proudly the only EPA-licensed collector and recycler of tyres in Victoria and all environmental regulations were met during the project.

“Our planning procedures are thorough, including specific transportation schedules for the collection and arrival of waste.”

He says that the conditions were extremely challenging and strategic planning is required to begin a clean-up operation especially of this magnitude.

“Firefighting equipment is always onsite. However, when temperatures went to 40 degrees or if there was a total fire ban, all work ceased as the searing weather conditions resulted in an unsafe working environment.

“Fire safety preparation is paramount during a clean-up, as well as heightened security and effective management of any wildlife and vermin on site. With careful planning and protocols, we were pleased to deliver an incident-free project.”

The majority of the shredded and recycled waste tyres were converted into tyre-derived fuel (TDF), helping companies reduce their environmental footprint across South-East Asia.

“TDF is an attractive alternative fuel on an international scale. The extremely high calorific value of the product has significantly lower volumes of greenhouse gases when compared with coal,” Jim says.

The recycled tyre waste from the Numurkah site is also being used for a variety of products across the construction, manufacturing and automotive industries, including crumbed rubber for road surfacing, athletics tracks and brake pads.

Tyrecycle also worked with the EPA in Victoria in 2017 to remove another dangerous and large tyre stockpile on the outskirts of Stawell.

During a clean-up operation lasting just over two months, 9500 tonnes of tyres which had been stockpiled for many years were removed, with more than two-thirds of the tyres transported to Tyrecycle’s Melbourne facility for processing and recycling.

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Tyrecycle rips tyre issues to shreds

Tyrecycle CEO Jim Fairweather with team members at the Somerton tyre recycling plant
With new partnerships in place and market growth on the horizon, Tyrecycle CEO Jim Fairweather talks about the company’s direction and his aspirations for the tyre recycling sector.

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