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Wheels of fortune

tyre recycling

Hard on the heels of opening an Australian-first tyre recycling plant, Tyrecycle is undertaking its biggest capital expansion in 30 years. Jim Fairweather, Chief Executive Officer, talks with Waste Management Review.

Jim Fairweather has been at the helm of Tyrecycle’s biggest expansion plan ever. The company’s Chief Executive Officer was a driving force behind Australia’s largest tyre recycling plant launched in Erskine Park in December, 2021. But he has bigger plans to ensure Australia manages its waste.

“This plant reflects a significant step forward in Australia responsibly dealing with its own tyre waste, driving strong environmental and economic outcomes,” Jim says. “We must drive improvements and we must play our role in supporting the Council of Australian Government (COAG) waste bans.”

The Federal Government has implemented a timetable to ban the exports of waste glass, plastics, tyres and paper and cardboard by 1 July 2024. A ban on whole-baled tyres came into effect on 1 December, 2021.

The $10 million Erskine Park facility is the first of its kind commissioned in Australia. Described as a “game changer”, at full capacity it will transform waste tyres into products for re-use, including up to 40,000 tonnes of Tyre-Derived Fuel (TDF) and 10,000 tonnes of rubber crumb for use in roads, tile adhesive and sporting surfaces. 

Jim says “there’s nothing else like it” in terms of capability and capacity for recycling tyres in New South Wales.

tyre recycling“It’s a really exciting plant,” he says. “It’s got the best dust extraction measures, the best fire control measures. It’s the best equipment in the world. It’s designed extremely cleverly. We have highly-skilled people working from both sides of the value chain.” 

The plant combines 30 years of learnings from scrap tyre processing via Tyrecycle, part of global resource recovery group ResourceCo, and the equipment manufacturing expertise of Eldan Recycling.

Government leadership

The Australian Government’s waste export ban and funding through the national Recycling Modernisation Fund (RMF) has brought about Tyrecycle’s expansion quicker than planned. Construction of the plant was supported by a $1.5 million grant for phase 1 and a further $2.9 million for phase 2. 

Sussan Ley, Federal Minister for the Environment, says the federal government’s $190 million commitment to transform Australia’s waste and recycling capacity is being matched by states and territories, and business is backing it with unprecedented spending. 

Speaking at the Erskine Park launch, she said Australians are doing their bit through domestic recycling, but as a nation, more opportunities to use recycled content and better ways of processing it, need to be created. Jim says the RMF is a great example of the role of funding and government and industry working hand in hand.

“It’s a great demonstration of co-ordination of government and industry,” he says. “The leadership the Federal Government has shown with the COAG waste bans and support for those bans, in terms of trying to grow government procurement, and the recent announcement of the Remade in Australia campaign, is a great blueprint going forward in how to engage with industry and get great outcomes.

“They have led this sector really well and engaged really strongly at a Federal level. These COAG waste bans are no small outcome. They are far reaching and will have a lasting impact on not only our environment but overseas.”

Jim says the economic gains to be had from the RMF and Modern Manufacturing Grant program will drive huge economic returns for Australia.

“The waste industry is a massive employer,” he says. “At Erskine Park there’s a direct employment impact, certainly, but there’s also the multiplier effect for employment and economic activity through Western Sydney and beyond where these products are used.

“There is merit in starting a discussion about whether the waste sector sits under the environment portfolio or the industry portfolio.”

Capital expansion

ResourceCo and Tyrecycle are aiming to refresh their entire manufacturing footprint within 36 months. As part of that, the Erskine Park facility will be replicated with an almost $30 million investment in Perth, Western Australia. About $5.2 million has been secured in RMF funding. The company has an ambitious time frame to secure a greenfield site and have a plant operational by December 2022.

“It will be ground-breaking for Perth,” Jim says. “It will be the first crumbing plant in Western Australia to respond to a burgeoning demand for crumbed rubber going into roads, another key plank that supports these COAG waste bans.

“Western Australia is mandating that Australian crumbed rubber goes into the mix for the state’s roads. Within a few years it will be mandating that Western Australian crumbed rubber is used. We’ll be able to service the WA market well into the future.”

Jim says the Perth plant will add to Tyrecycle’s ability to broaden TDF domestic consumption opportunities and add to markets it can target offshore.

He says offshore markets will be important to the commercial viability of the Australian tyre recycling facility “for years to come yet”.

“We’re a long way from being able to process and consume everything in Australia – more than a decade away. But we are growing quickly. It’s really imperative that we can develop overseas markets as well as onshore markets so they can work in co-existence effectively and efficiently.

“We see huge growth potential in the use of rubber crumb in road construction, but it needs to be supported by bold procurement commitments from all levels of government.”

tyre recyclingJim says everyone must be accountable for their piece of the supply chain, including retailers who must know where their waste is going.

“They have to know that their waste is going to someone who is going to manage that waste responsibly. Without that, this whole system, this whole waste ban, will be for nothing. It’s really important that everyone plays their role and everyone’s held accountable for their actions. This is the single most important watershed moment we’ve had in the entire recycling sector in 30 years.”

While the Perth crumbing plant is the top priority, Tyrecycle will upgrade its plants in Melbourne and Adelaide, also supported by RMF funding, and relocate to a new greenfield site in Brisbane.

“We’ve got big plans,” Jim says. “It’s an exciting time to be at Tyrecycle. It’s our biggest expansion plan ever. I’m thrilled to be leading it.”

An essential service

He says the two biggest challenges going forward will be access to shipping to support offshore RDF business and access to labour domestically.

“Labour shortages are extreme,” he says. “It’s the biggest single threat to industry in Australia at the moment. With no overseas labour we’re spending a fortune on labour-hire, not only for blue collar positions to support our collections but to get skilled labour in terms of running plants – to design and build plants, as well as project management. When you’re undertaking capital expansion of this magnitude you need people to help get there.”

Jim says throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, waste and recycling services were quickly deemed essential. He says it’s an industry that’s “not going away” and will be more important as Australia strives for a circular economy.

“Recycling will play a bigger role in our economy because we cannot continue to consume resources,” he says. “We must find a way to evolve.”

ResourceCo is involved in more than a dozen PhD projects with university students around Australia looking at ways to use crumbed rubber or tyre-derived products.

Jim says a move toward carbon abatement and carbon offset will be the way of the future. As the first company to trade carbon in Australia, ResourceCo is primed to help businesses navigate the market. 

“The carbon abatement that the recycling sector offers the economy, and looking at trading that carbon to drive financial capacity in the recycling industry, is a really important development,” Jim says. “As we see more environmental, social, and governance reporting and more shareholder groups pushing companies out of carbon-generating activities, you’ll see a greater carbon market starting to evolve. In the next 10 years, I think it will be the next biggest development in our market.” 

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