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Red Sea shipping crisis brings new threat to UK environment

Communities across Britain face environmental assault if UK authorities can’t stop illegal  disposal of end-of-life tyres 

Britain faces an environmental assault from the illegal disposal of end-of-life tyres as the impact of the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping come home to roost. With 75% of the UK’s waste tyres heading to the Indian sub-continent via the Red Sea route, the UK government rightly condemns Houthi attacks against commercial shipping, yet at the same time, it is failing to address the environmental concerns that arise from this situation, warns the Tyre Recovery Association.


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Image credit: David G40 /

Industry insiders point to the Red Sea shipping crisis as exposing the lethargy of the UK’s policy-making and a reliance on exports that has been termed ‘environmental colonialism’. The government has been presented with evidence of the misuse of UK-baled end-of-life tyres by Indian importers but has taken no action. As ships are diverted via the Cape of Good Hope, container rates for the shipment of used tyres have dramatically increased from an average of £850 to £2,000. Meanwhile tyre collectors at the lower reaches of the market, commonly operating under a licence known as a T8 exemption, have come to rely on disposing of the tyres they collect by exporting to the Indian sub-continent. These operators have seen the price of the baled tyres they sell for export to the Indian sub-continent fall dramatically as overseas importers refuse to pay the additional surcharges shippers need to cover their increased transport costs.

The last time prices collapsed for these operators, there was a significant increase in fly-tipping, abandonment and major tyre fires. Such fires can take days to extinguish, involving dozens of firefighters. The noxious smoke can cause travel chaos to road and rail, as well as result in a dangerous reduction in air quality, impacting local schools and communities.

T8-exempted operators are limited to storing 40 tonnes of tyres a week, with an average of 26 tonnes of tyres making up one container for export; the challenge becomes clear with illegal storage expected to rocket. As unscrupulous end-of-life tyre operators come under pressure, illegal stockpiling will rise, as will fly tipping and illegal abandonment, which includes burning. A cycle of behaviour that will once again damage Britain’s environment looks inevitable, affecting water courses and the air we breathe. Meanwhile, the Environment Agency and other enforcement authorities will struggle to keep up with the scale of rule-breaking given the challenges already faced in preceding more stable times.

End-of-life tyre recyclers have been frustrated by the Government’s inability to implement the commitment made by the Environment Secretary to end T8 exemptions two years ago. With an election expected this year,

a DEFRA letter dated 04 January 2024 from the Minister responsible for land waste has confirmed that this government does not expect to allocate the necessary parliamentary time to curtail the well-documented abuse of the T8 exemption in this parliament.

Peter Taylor OBE, Secretary General of the TRA, said:

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Peter Taylor

“The crisis in the Red Sea is not just a threat to British people’s ability to buy their clothes from Next, it presents a looming environmental calamity for communities near sites across the country. The TRA has been warning the government that current regulations are inadequate and allow non-compliant waste tyre operators to continue abusing the rules. As Houthi pirates create a stranglehold on shipping routes, the full picture of the UK’s end life-tyre market and its overreliance on Indian sub-continent importers comes into sharp relief.

Reputational damage to the industry from tyre fires, virtually all of which are at non-permitted sites, causes issue for mainstream permitted operators and the industry at large.

We have the capacity and capability in the UK to responsibly deal with end-of-life tyres but urgently need the UK’s environmental regulations to catch up.”

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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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