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.”