Tyre recyclers seek right traction for product stewardship

tyre product stewardship

The peak body for Australia’s tyre recyclers is calling for in-depth industry-wide consultation before any decision is made about the future of product stewardship for end-of-life-tyres.

The Australian Tyre Recyclers Association (ATRA) held a national summit in November, bringing together state and federal government representatives, tyre collectors, recyclers, and representatives from international extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes.

Rob Kelman, ATRA Executive Officer, says it’s important tyre collectors and recyclers have a voice in any possible scheme or other regulatory intervention that “massively impacts the sector”.

“We want to make sure the government understands that there is already a large active recycling industry in Australia,” Rob says.

“To overlay a whole new product stewardship scheme on an industry that has established commercial investment, markets, and a 98 per cent collection rate for passenger, truck and bus tyres may be unnecessary and there are several other options to shift the dial and resolve outstanding issues.”

End-of-life tyres were added to the Minister’s Product Stewardship Priority List in October 2022. At the time, Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek, said the priority list made it clear, if industry doesn’t act, government will.

State and federal governments doubled down at the June 2023 Environment Minister’s meeting, agreeing to develop national principles for tyre product stewardship.

Jim Fairweather, ATRA President and Chief Executive Officer of Tyrecycle, says the association supports measured and sensible steps to improve tyre recycling outcomes but is cautious of over-regulating a sector where there is no market failure.

“We have a well-functioning market. We’re collecting, recycling and appropriately managing that waste stream to its end point – either as fuel or tyre-derived products to be used in roads,” Jim says.

“The danger is that if you have a market performing and functioning to that level, then have an overreach of government into that market, it diminishes sector confidence.

“You end up with an undercapitalised sector, a lack of innovation and we end up driving the lowest resource recovery outcomes rather than the highest.”

tyre product stewardship
ATRA members collect, recycle and manage waste tyres to their end point – either as fuel or tyre-derived products for roads. (Image: ResourceCo)

Both Rob and Jim agree tyre recycling outcomes in Australia can be improved. They support ensuring all tyre manufacturers, importers, and retailers are contributing to improved environmental outcomes for end-of-life tyres; a nation-wide ban on all landfilling (except residual material from recycling processes), burying, and stockpiling of tyres, including off-the-road (OTR) tyres; and increased enforcement action on existing export bans.

They’re also calling for representation of tyre recyclers in any new or updated tyre stewardship governance framework; more comprehensive data reporting requirements for retailers and data sharing obligations for importers; and government procurement targets for recycled tyre products while maintaining crucial export markets. 

“The challenge with stewardship schemes is the orientation towards a focus on supply – scooping up and supplying the product to recyclers. Whether it be a voluntary, co-regulated or full extended producer responsibly (EPR) scheme, demand then for the recycled offtake product will always be a key driver,” Jim says.

They believe that while there are several policy and regulatory levers available to improve recycling outcomes without overhauling the existing stewardship model, they’re not opposed to shifting from a voluntary to a co-regulated tyre stewardship scheme, registered under the Commonwealth’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Act 2020. 

Jim says a major difference in this approach would be that all manufacturers, importers, and retailers must contribute to the scheme via a per tyre levy. 

“With full coverage of all tyre imports and sales, a co-regulated scheme levy could be adjusted from the current price of 25 cents per tyre to allow the sector to achieve even better recycling outcomes,” he says.

“Increased levy revenue could also support regulators in delivering their monitoring and enforcement obligations.”

Rob says a new approach could also allow tyre recyclers to maintain the markets and customer bases they have developed over several decades. Doing so will also maintain the economic environment that has underpinned the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in recycling infrastructure, research and development and equipment from Australian recyclers in service of the tyre recovery market. 

They say that with a strengthened mandate to operate, the custodian of the current voluntary scheme, Tyre Stewardship Australia, would also be a beneficiary of a co-regulated approach. This would include the inclusion of several new importers and brands who have so far opted not to participate in a voluntary scheme.

Tyre recyclers in Australia have invested heavily based on a competitive, open market through which they can grow their businesses independently, to create value and contribute to an effective circular economy for end-of-life tyres,” Rob says.

“Any changes to tyre stewardship in Australia should be measured and take into consideration the high performance of the majority of the sector, the existing open-market-based investments, end market development and leadership of recyclers over the past 30 plus years.

“It’s important all parts of the supply chain contribute to the debate, otherwise decision makers risk being presented only with a narrow view of the world.”  

For more information, visit: www.atra.asn.au

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