Fuelling the market

Waste Management Review speaks with key industry stakeholders about the potential tyre-derived fuel flow-on effects of the Council of Australian Governments’ proposed export ban.

In early August, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) released a communique detailing its decision to ban the export of waste materials including plastic, paper, glass and tyres.

Specifics of the ban have not yet been released, with government stating that it would develop a ban timeline and action plan in due course. Despite this, industry responses have been swift and overwhelmingly positive, with particular focus given to the potential waste-to-energy flow-on effects of a ban on tyre exports.

Gayle Sloan, Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) CEO, says Australia has a robust and sustainable non-baling tyre recycling industry, which processes roughly 23 million used tyre units per annum.

“A ban on the export of whole-baled tyres will further drive the industry, which will create Australian jobs while ensuring human and environmental health are protected,” she says.

Pete Smigel, Australian Council of Recycling CEO, says consumers are increasingly demanding sustainable end-of-life disposal and recycling of products that offer sustainable environmental and human health outcomes.

“Australia has a great opportunity to develop a strong, sustainable and profitable tyre recycling industry that delivers significant environmental benefits and as well as job creation across the new manufacturing industry,” Pete says.

“It’s imperative this is supported by responsible government policy, and the COAG communique is a great step towards that.”

Tyrecycle, one of Australia’s largest collectors and recyclers of end-of-life tyres, operates numerous collection and processing facilities across the country, including Australia’s largest crumbing plant based at Somerton in Melbourne. It also has full chain-of-custody reporting.

Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says COAG’s signalled intention to ban the export of waste tyres is a win for the environment and the circular economy.

“The proposed ban presents the best opportunity to turn all end-of-life waste tyres in Australia into value-added commodities such as rubber crumb, rubber granule, tyre-derived fuel (TDF) and high-tensile steel, creating more sustainable jobs in Australia,” he says.

“A ban on the export of waste tyres should include both whole-baled tyres, which are sent unprocessed to countries such as India and Malaysia, as well as casings from old truck tyres sent into overseas markets for use as seconds or in retreading.”

Jim says these elements go hand-in-hand, given the ban on whole-baled tyres will require the establishment and growth of new markets for re-purposed tyre-derived products.   

Australia currently exports approximately 70,000 tonnes of whole-baled tyres per annum, which are then used in open burning as a fuel to heat drying kilns and in low-grade pyrolysis plants.

Rob Kelman, Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) Executive Officer, says operations like this are controversial, do not comply with environmental, health and worker regulations and are associated with high levels of pollution.

ATRA members agreed to ban the practice of exporting whole-baled tyres in 2014, due to poor environmental outcomes and a direct association with water borne diseases.

“The World Health Organization specifically identifies international movement of whole tyres as a key factor in the increase in Dengue incidence,” Rob says.

Australia’s tyre recycling sector is largely dominated by traditional recycling methods, which use a series of shredders, screens and granulators to separate waste tyres into commodities.

Jim says these commodities, which are valued commensurate with their level of refinement, are used as raw material in the manufacture of new products such as soft fall surfaces and asphalt, as well as civil work applications such as roads and infrastructure.

“Waste tyres are also used in TDF – a globally traded commodity, which fuels sophisticated, high-energy manufacturing environments and power generation plants overseas,” Jim explains.

“The technology is proven, and TDF has excellent environmental credentials that include a reduction in landfill, improved emissions and reduced use of fossil fuels.”

Jim adds that for every tonne of TDF used, one tonne of CO2 is displaced.

“It burns cleaner than coal and has twice the energy value of brown coal,” he explains.

“The global TDF market, which includes South Korea and Japan, is hungry for more and could easily consume all of Australia’s waste tyres as TDF, but there should also be a gradual push to increase the domestic uptake of TDF, most likely in cement kilns.”

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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.

Read moreTyrecycle rips tyre issues to shreds

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