End of Life Tyres: Building an environmental nightmare

by Peter Sadd

New Zealand’s track record with end-of-life tyres is littered with good intentions, dubious science and failed investments. While some businesses are safely recycling tyres, these are the exception rather than the rule. A more common outcome has been abandoned stockpiles of tyres that councils and ratepayers are forced to pay millions to tidy up.   http://3r.co.nz/collaboration-required-tyre-solution/

How do you get rid of that tyre you were going to grow spuds in but never got round to? What happens to the old tyres on your car when you have to replace them to get a warrant? Why are there so many tyres dumped by the side of the road?  Are the horror stories about piles of tyres being buried on rural properties or stashed under state houses true?

Finding answers to these questions has revealed a looming environmental nightmare.

In Christchurch the City Council charges the public $9.95 per tyre for disposal at its transfer stations.  According to the Waste Management team at the council, the tyres are then shredded and shipped to India for use as a fuel in cement kilns, pyrolysis or crumbing. At the time of writing (April  2016) a request by email to Ecocentral ( who are contracted to operate the council transfer stations) for further information remained unanswered.

At least one major tyre retailer in the city pays a contractor to take away their ELTs, who then bales up the tyres and exports them to India for pyrolysis.  In this process the tyres are heated in the absence of air and the volatile gases and liquids given off are collected, condensed and used as a fuel.

Nationally the situation is dire. In 2011 the consulting firm 3R began working with the tyre industry and accounting firm KPMG to deliver a report to the Ministry for the Environment which would

Enable the tyre and vehicle industry to work together to deliver a consistent, nationwide approach to the responsible disposal of ELTs (2012-present) http://3r.co.nz/what-we-do/tyrewise/

Estimates vary, but 3R claim that approximately 4 million car and 1 million truck tyres are disposed of annually in NZ, most of which are not recycled and end up in landfills or are illegally dumped. Landfill operators do not want them for a range of reasons: they take up a lot of space unless they are cut up or shredded, they degrade very slowly, and leaching of toxic chemicals  has to be controlled to prevent contamination of land and groundwater. Illegal dumping has the same issues but is also unsightly, a potential fire risk and a great breeding ground for insects and rodents. Many countries, including the EU, have legislation banning the disposal of ELTs in landfills.

In April 2014 their report was submitted to the Ministry for the Environment. It suggested that ELTs be declared a priority product under the Waste Minimisation Act. This would allow what they called a collaborative stewardship approach, a critical element of which was “Smart, supportive regulation”      

In June 2015 the Ministry for the Environment announced that it would not classify ELTs as priority products under the Waste Management Act and thus effectively scuttled the 3R report

In October 2015 Minister for the Environment Nick Smith announced the offer of funding grants for new ideas to recycle ELTs.

With the rejection by the Minister of the Environment of the 3R report, the inescapable conclusion is that decades of dithering by successive governments will continue, and the piles of toxic, dangerous tyres will continue to grow. Good luck if you have a tyre to get rid of and can’t pay the $10 at the transfer station. Maybe you could bury it in the garden or put it under the house and just pretend it’s not there. (Yes, according to 3R, the horror stories are true).