Getting to the bottom of recycling of tyres

Bridgestone created models that are 100% recyclableTHE history of the development of tyres is slightly parallel to the history of the development of the motor car. The motor car has been developing almost continuously but since the introduction of pneumatic tyres at the turn of the last century there have been remarkably few innovations in tyre manufacture, the last one being in 1903, when Goodyear patented a tubeless tyre. This concept didn’t catch on till the mid-1950s, when within five years of their introduction tubeless tyres killed the inner tube industry. So today’s tubeless tyre is one of the few century-old technologies still in general use.

But breakthroughs have been made by Japanese tyre maker Bridgestone and French supplier Michelin on the introduction of airless tyres that are said to be safer, less wasteful and environment friendly in comparison with conventional pneumatic tyres.

Recyclable airless tyres
Michelin first came up with the airless tyre concept in 2005 and now Bridgestone has followed with models that are 100% recyclable . Introduced at the Tokyo Motor Show last year, Bridgestone’s concept features a mesh of spokes that are made of thermoplastic resin that can be recycled back into a new tyre, eliminating the risk of the tyre landing up in a landfill.

Until now, the company has been testing the tyre in one-seat vehicles and has introduced prototypes of
9 inches at this point only. It expects to scale up the technology to commercial stage soon.

Why implement the process of recycling?

Recycling is presently a big issue. Research show that recycling rates for tyres are actually quite high, with
the US known to be the highest thrower of used tyres but not keeping up with recycling!

recycling chart

Major factors that are causing the recycling revolution include the increasing acceptance of global warming and climate change theories. Furthermore, in the book titled “Cradle to Cradle” by McDonough and Braungart (Northpoint Press, 2002), it is suggested that in nature, nothing goes to waste, but instead becomes an input for the next phase of existence. As such, the mountains of tyres that have reached the end of their
useful life should not simply be discarded.

Secondly, is the increasing availability of information about the components of products and the potential
damage they can cause, for instance, in the process of life cycle assessment (LCA). As a result, companies that manufacture products that contain material harmful to the planet are required to take them back when they reach the end of their useful life.

Underlying this is the pressure of legislation in some European countries and states in the US, especially California, that are imposing laws limiting the disposal of tyres. For instance, the European Landfill Directive
forbids the disposal of used tyres in landfills and in 2006, it was expanded to include shredded tyres.

Finally, companies are beginning to realise the benefits available from recycling tyres, especially the monetary value and money to be made from the recycling process!

Mountains of “black gold” churning profits

New vehicle sales of 13.5 million are forecast for 2012 and each will come with five tyres that need to be recycled at some point in the future. In tyre recycling, the process of pyrolysis is used where tyres are subjected to intense heat under controlled conditions resulting in the recovery of steel, oil and carbon black.

The large residue from the process – the char – was previously unusable, which tended to make the process
financially not viable, but new developments have made the char useful, which totally changes the economics

The tyre crumb can be used to manufacture concrete to form construction blocks or the carbon black can be used in hoses, gaskets, roofing and other material. There is also a large market for the steel, for example, while the pure rubber fraction can be produced in sizes that can be sold directly to producers of tyres to manufacture retreads or other products. Others are rubber-based flooring for pavements, playgrounds or to be used in asphalt.

Improvements in technology

To increase the marketability and profitability of recycling, two companies, Germany-based size reduction machinery supplier Pallmann and Spanish tyre recycler GMN have tied up to develop plants for shredding and reprocessing vehicle tyres.

The new concept is known as Ecotrec and it is said to be able to create high value added raw materials that can be sold at attractive prices. Pallmann has been supplying GMN with tyre shredding plants since 2004. The two companies have been working together to optimise costs per tonne, final product quality and output rates.

The companies will supply modules necessary for recycling car and truck tyres, including shredders, granulators and separators as well as complete conveyor and control technology, including appropriate know-how. Initial focus will be on Europe and the US.

The management process It is important that the process of recycling is effectively managed right from the start. There needs to be serious thought as to whether the company should undertake recycling – on its own or in association with a partner company – with the emphasis always on the profit element of the triple bottom line, though the planet element is also relevant! Would it be a competitive advantage for a manufacturer or distributor to offer a used tyre collection service?

Next, there needs to be accountability for recycling. Recycling doesn’t just happen, even though it has been dictated by senior management. It needs to be made to happen, by defining it as part of someone’s accountability and setting up a measurement system to ensure that it happens. The measurement process should also record performance improvements, including a company’s performance against that of its competitors through benchmarking.

The process should also be incorporated into the broader area of sustainability in the manufacturing, sales and logistics processes, by adopting the three Rs, reduce, reuse and recycle, mantra. Once this becomes part of the company’s operating DNA, then opportunities can be sought to apply the three Rs throughout the organisation from office management to marketing, not forgetting accounting and human resource.

A recent book called “Green to Gold” (Esty and Winston, John Wiley and Sons, 2009) gives valuable help in showing how a company can increase its sustainability and positively impact the triple bottom line.

The Yale-educated authors tackle the business wake-up-call for environmental responsibility. Though the authors say they know of not one company that is truly on a long-term sustainable course, Esty and Winston label the forward-thinking, green-friendly (or at least green-acquainted) companies WaveMakers and set out to assess their path toward environmental responsibility and impact on a company’s bottom line, customers, suppliers and reputation – it makes for an interesting read in any industry, including the tyre recycling arena!