A stockpile in excess of a million tyres should spur action for the safer and smarter management of end-of-life tyres, Tyrecycle’s Jim Fairweather says.
On the outskirts of Stawell at the base of Victoria’s Grampians mountain range lies a stockpile of an estimated one to two million tyres.
In May 2017, the Country Fire Authority issued a Fire Prevention Notice on the owner of the stockpile to manage the risk of fire, with a deadline to take action over several months. This was followed by three statutory notices by Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria and a notice of contravention after the owners failed to adhere to the requirements of the statutory notice. By the end of July, the CFA confirmed the duty holder had not complied with the requirements of the Fire Prevention Notice.
In August 2017, EPA Victoria took control of the site after the owners failed to act on EPA and CFA notices. EPA exercised its powers under Section 55 to secure the site, and under Section 62 to conduct a clean-up.
EPA CEO Nial Finegan said that it was the view of EPA Victoria that the stockpile had been abandoned or was being handled in a manner by the owners that was likely to cause an environmental hazard. Continued inaction from the owners posed both a risk to the community and environment. The safety risk remained ever-present as rubber tyres made of compounds can cause rapid combustion. EPA Victoria notes that although tyres are not easy to ignite, once alight, it can be difficult to extinguish them.
One of Australia’s largest tyre recyclers, Tyrecycle, was recruited for the clean-up. Jim Fairweather, Tyrecycle CEO, says the company remains the only licensed tyre collector and recycler in Victoria. He says the organisation brought a demonstrable track record of project management for the size and scale required to remove the stockpile.
Tyrecycle has on its own removed 9500 tonnes of tyres from Stawell as of November 2017, while also removing more than a million tyres from the site, with support from the state government, Northern Grampians Shire Council and other state agencies. The work was all conducted under the guidance of the EPA and CFA.
“In total, 381 truckloads of tyre waste were removed from the site and at our peak we were accepting 200 tonnes daily, which equates to approximately 25,000 tyres,” Jim says.
The tyres were transported to Tyrecycle’s EPA-licensed processing facility in Melbourne where they were cleaned, sorted, shredded and recycled. Tyrecycle recycles truck tyres into rubber crumb (less than one millimetre) and granules (one millimetre to 10 millimetre) for use in roads, playgrounds, sporting fields and civil engineering applications. Conversely, the company converts passenger tyres to tyre-derived fuel for use in high energy applications.
With the Stawell site now clear, Jim says the community response has been overwhelming one of great relief.
“The locals have been forthcoming in their gratitude for our combined efforts in making them feel much safer in their homes, particularly as the warmer months were approaching,” he says.
“This project is a shining example of what can be accomplished when regulators, authorities and industry work collaboratively and professionally in support of better community outcomes.”
Mr Fairweather hopes the outcome at Stawell will spur action on other dangerous legacy stockpiles across the country and lead to an eradication of the practice altogether.
“We would like to see far greater penalties and even custodial sentences (as is the case in NSW) for offences that create the mess we’ve just cleaned up at Stawell – it’s nothing short of land pollution.
“As with every sector, the end-of-life tyre collection and recycling market has some rogue operators and these are the people that need to be held to account.”
He says stockpiling tyres is the easiest and the most lucrative form of rogue behaviour in the industry.
“These rogue operators collect the gate fee to receive end-of-life tyres and then have no further expense, unlike the legitimate recyclers who do the right thing and absorb the significant costs to process the tyres into something of value.
“Quite often it’s the taxpayer who’s left to foot the bill when these rogue stockpilers abscond.”
However, Jim says he is encouraged by the fact that waste tyres seem to be gaining visibility with regulators.
In November last year, the Tasmanian Government, which is home to one of the country’s largest stockpiles at Longford, introduced regulatory changes to crack down on the stockpiling of used tyres. The new regulations stipulate that any proposal to store more than 100 tonnes of waste tyres will be assessed by the Environment Protection Board and regulated by the director of the EPA. The regulations mean that the environmental impacts of proposed tyre stockpiles will now be comprehensively assessed before approval will be granted, including consideration of how the tyres will be processed or recycled.
“It is pleasing to see regulators across Australia looking at ways to continually tighten end-of-life tyre regulations, be that in relation to collection, storage and/or processing.”
The new regulations also force market operators to have a “plausible re-use” for the tyre-derived products they generate. It means producers of tyre-derived fuel must have realistic and existing markets to sell products into.
Further measures Jim would like to see adopted nationally include the strict prohibition of stockpiles altogether and the banning of whole-baled tyre exports. Tyrecycle believes thousands of tonnes of whole baled tyres are being exported out of Australia with little or no governance over where the material goes and how it is treated, despite the World Health Organization citing waste tyres as a key source of Dengue fever outbreaks worldwide.
Jim says there should also be mandatory licensing for all collectors and recyclers and increased environmental and fire prevention controls.
“By increasing the infrastructure requirements and tightening the fire control measures required for a licence, we can then significantly reduce risk,” Jim says.
“Ultimately, we need to put an end to legacy stockpiles and ensure everyone along the supply chain takes responsibility for dealing with end-of-life tyres appropriately.”