A FIVE-year initiative to create a sustainable industry to recycle millions of scrapped tyres every year, is making progress and attracting international interest.
Estimates of the number of abandoned tyres lying across South Africa range from 60-million to 100-million. Another 11-million or so are added to the stockpile each year as vehicle owners buy new ones. Many of the scrapped tyres end up in landfills, while others are burnt for heat or left lying in the open.
Reacting to what it considers a serious health hazard and a danger to the environment, the Department of Environmental Affairs two years ago ordered that the tyre industry should be the first in South Africa to develop an industry waste management plan.
The plan, which became effective last year, is driven by the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (Redisa). Executive director Stacey Davidson said on Friday that up to June this year, 28,811 tonnes of old tyres had been collected and processed. However, it is a measure of the challenge that about 240,000 tonnes of new tyres enter the market each year.
The plan relies on independent transporters delivering old tyres to regional storage depots, from where they are passed on to recyclers. Licensed operators at every stage must be at least 51% black-owned. So far Redisa has licensed 73 transporters.
Ms Davidson said materials from the recycling process were used by several industries. The steel content goes to the metals sector, while the rubber can be turned into hosepipes, rubber gaskets, floor mats, astroturf and even bitumen for road surfaces.
Researchers at Stellenbosch University and Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) are looking for new uses. NMMU’s botany department has begun field trials using rubber crumb as a soil additive in landscaping.
Most tyres are collected from tyre fitment centres and motor dealers, but the South African National Defence Force and some municipalities are among others that have set up collection centres. Tyres come from cars, trucks, motorbikes, industry and even aircraft.
Ms Davidson said Redisa was talking to Anglo American about a process to recycle tyres used in mining. Those on some giant vehicles can weigh up to six tonnes. “It is clearly not practical to transport these tyres in their original form for recycling, so we are looking at a mobile facility able to move from stockpile to stockpile and break them down.”She said Redisa hoped soon to announce a way to reward local community co-operatives for alerting Redisa to abandoned tyres.
The all-encompassing nature of the plan was attracting interest from other countries facing similar tyre waste challenges, she said.
Despite the apparently slow start in South Africa, Ms Davidson said the plan was on schedule. “There was never any question of solving the problem quickly.” The five-year roll -out would allow the new industry to grow sustainably and become viable for the long term. Inevitably, most of the early efforts had been concentrated in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Durban, but the plan would gradually spread to the rest of the country, she said.
Between December and June, Redisa-licensed transporters collected 4,046 tonnes of tyres from Gauteng, 3,856 tonnes from the Western Cape, 3,019 tonnes from KwaZulu-Natal, 1,856 tonnes from the North West, 1,664 tonnes from the Eastern Cape, 1,538 tonnes from the Northern Cape, and 1,030 tonnes from the Free State.
“Eventually we will have many more than the nine recyclers currently operating,” she said. The initiative would also lead to more employment. So far it is credited with creating 743 jobs.
Redisa is a nonprofit company funded by tyre industry levies and reporting to the Department of Environmental Affairs.