Landfills, Latest News, Tyre waste

Tyre recycling rogue operators still a blight on tyre industry

Twelve months is a long time when things aren’t going your way. Lina Goodman, the CEO of Tyre Stewardship Australia, is becoming frustrated at the lack of action from many quarters – industry specific associations, retailers and free-riders including auto-brands  – when it comes to end-of-life tyres. A year ago, Goodman was lamenting the lack of progress in getting everybody on board with a recycling scheme. While there are more tyre importers on board, the freeloaders are still, well, freeloading.

“Nothing has changed. And I think that if we have the same conversation 12 months from now, nothing will have changed,” said Goodman. “The biggest changes that the scheme has had in the past was when the OTR contributors came on board and paid the levy, and when a few auto brands came on board to pay the levies. However, when you look at the scheme performance, we’re doing our best with our hands tied behind our back.”

The TSA recently published data that shows the recovery of used car, bus, and truck- tyres is regressing. It has now dropped from its peak of 90 per cent in 2019-20 to 80 per cent over the past year. While the likes of the Australian Tyre Recyclers Association have questioned aspects of the data, Goodman is having none of it.

“There is no hidden agenda behind this data apart from sharing what is a true and accurate reflection of what’s happening in the market,” she said. “And we may have some people in the market who are suggesting that there is no problem, but that is in complete contrast to what is practically being felt by government agencies, local government, landlords, and factory owners. This week alone, there was a huge stockpile found in Albury-Wodonga.

“A couple of days ago, I took a drive out in my local area. There’s a bridge not far from where I live called the EJ Whitten Bridge. And underneath it, there are thousands of tyres being thrown out. If someone tells me that there isn’t a problem and our data is wrong, that does not match what is happening. We refine the data methodology every year to ensure it is more accurate.”

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Goodman said that TSA has invested heavily in understanding the tyre recycling data it collects. She said there is a team of people working on it.

“It’s not me sitting there with a calculator and a couple of people sitting around me thinking how we can shape the data so that it works in our favour,” she said. “And it isn’t just TSA relying on the data, State Governments also rely on state-specific TSA data, and we take that role really seriously.”

Trying to solve these tyre recycling issues takes work. Goodman said that the problems are multifaceted – from mum and dad stores not using reputable recyclers through to an increase in illegal dumping.

“We’re seeing more material going to landfill. What’s interesting from the recycler’s perspective is the lost opportunity for them,” she said. “These are tyres they’re not collecting. These are tyres that they’re not receiving revenue. But what we are doing is we’re allowing rogue operators to collect these tyres at a much more inflated cost than they would have a couple of years ago. Two years ago, they’d collect these tyres for $1 or $2. But now they can charge $3 to $3.50 because the rest of the market – legitimate operators – have had to transition due to the waste export ban, which means their collection costs have exceeded $4.”

Goodman isn’t lamenting the export ban. She sees it as a good thing because there are now better outcomes for value-added processing. However, it allows rogue operators to be opportunistic in that process.

“A lot of the time, we’re seeing small operators who possibly don’t even know TSA exists. They don’t think they can participate in the process of being accountable,” she said. “We’re seeing a lot of this material end up in the hands of people that are just making money at the cost of the legitimate recyclers and the environment. Then there are the social costs of dumping tyres in yards.”

She also said that these tyre recycling issues will only go away with some regulatory support. She believes that if legislation is put in place, legitimate recyclers will be the winners because that type of support will do away with the companies taking money away from them.

Goodman’s wish list for the next 12 months is succinct when it comes to tyre recycling – for every organisation importing tyres to Australia to contribute to a scheme that will support a whole circular economy approach to managing tyres. She also wants all organisations in the country that are in the business of tyre replacement – whether they are large tyre retailers or small one-person mechanic businesses – to not have the opportunity to engage with rogue operators.

“And the way in which that can be done is let’s remove the ability for those retailers to even choose rogue operators in the first instance. And I want legitimate recyclers and collectors to not only benefit from tyres they’ve lost to rogue operators, but to receive the funds to collect and recycle those tyres,” she said.

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