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Europe’s end-of-life tyres – a veritable mountain of rubber

Peter Taylor, Secretary General of the Tyre Recovery Association Limited (TRA) in the UK, discusses how the number of end-of-life tyres generated in Europe each year is higher than the number recorded and how failure to face up to the actual numbers has masked dealing with these tyres more efficiently.


Europe’s end-of-life tyres – a veritable mountain of rubber f
Peter Taylor

Western Europe as a whole generates some four million tonnes of used rubber annually – and that is just from used tyres. Add to that, belting and other industrial rubbers, and the figure is a whole lot more. No one knows exactly how much.

Although in 2020, these arisings took a bit of a covid-related dip, they reverted to normal levels again in 2021, according to an analysis by Astutus Research.

Used Tyres Generated in Europe by Segment, 2017-2021

Europe’s end-of-life tyres – a veritable mountain of rubber img one
Source: Astutus Research

These numbers are higher than many previously cited by industry sources for several reasons, not least inaccurate counting of total market size to include speciality markets at the national level, an underestimate of imports and the ignoring of secondary recovery schemes in a number of countries. Counting our used tyres remains an area where Europe’s nation-states still claim the right to be stubbornly different and inconsistent.

Used Tyres Generated in Europe by Country, 2021

Europe’s end-of-life tyres – a veritable mountain of rubber img two
Source: Astutus Research

This failure to face up to the real numbers has far too long masked the fact that when it comes to dealing adequately with our old tyres, we could do better. Even the simplest of analysis reveals the extent of the problem. Just take the declared arisings of any or all of the countries above and divide them by the vehicle parc to reveal some puzzling inconsistencies; other metrics expose yet more anomalies. 

A simple explanation is that we are all under-counting to a greater or lesser degree, and that also includes the UK. However, one difference in Britain, is that our arisings data or ‘mass balance’ is arrived at in conjunction with Defra, so is at least relatively accurate as far as it goes. However, like most other counties, we only count car and commercial tyres, largely because new tyre sales data for speciality tyre types are hard, if not impossible, to come by. That means our agricultural, industrial, earthmover and the rest are ignored. In our case, they could add as much as another 50,000 tonnes a year to our pile of worn-out rubber. Does it matter?

Well, yes, it really does because all our ‘waste’ tyres are actually a very important and valuable resource whether as a tyre-derived fuel; granulate for product re-manufacture retreading and potentially many other applications, the latest of which is pyrolysis which holds great hope for the future. Pyrolytic processes can reduce a tyre to its four main constituents, syngas, steel, oils and recovered carbon black (rCB), but investment in any form of recycling requires confidence in quantity of feedstock potentially available. Under-counting risks falsely deter new projects for the future by causing us to misread market potential.

Clearly, we need to develop a better understanding, not just of our used tyre arisings but also a better understanding of where they end up or ‘fates’ as they are sometimes known. This issue will be explored in my next article on end-of-life tyres, especially in our own UK context.

About the TRA

A cornerstone of the body is its support for the Responsible Recycler Scheme.  All TRA members are fully accredited by the scheme, which ensures that all tyres collected, recycled or reprocessed by them are disposed of or reused in environmentally friendly or acceptable methods. However, markets for tyre recovery continue to grow and develop, and as the EU Landfill Directive is applied right across Europe, a new international dimension will evolve. The Tyre Recovery Association has the independent ability to pursue its broader objectives at both industry and government levels, generate performance data specific to its member’s interests as well as develop stronger links across the tyre recycling world.

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Owain Griffiths

Owain Griffiths

Head of Circular Economy at Volvo Cars

Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

Turning into a circular business and the importance of vehicle reuse and recycling.

The presentation will cover the work Volvo Cars is doing to achieve 2025 but mainly focus on the transformational work towards 2040 and the business and value chain changes being considered. Attention will be paid to the way vehicles are being dealt with at the end of life and the complexities of closing material and component loops. Opportunities and challenges which Volvo Cars is facing will be presented including engagement with 3rd parties and increasing pressure from stakeholders.

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