The Trouble with Tyres

More about New Zealand’s problem with end of life tyres.

by Peter Sadd

Last year I wrote about the government’s unwillingness to accept an industry proposal on how to deal with the estimated 4 to 5 million end of life tyres generated every year in New Zealand.   In June, Environment Minister Nick Smith announced the government’s plan to deal with the issue

In brief, taxpayers will spend $19 million dollars to set up a process to deal with the annual flow of used tyres. So called “legacy” tyres ie those in existing dumps, are not covered by the plan. Over $17million of this cash will go to Fletchers at the Golden Bay cement plant in Whangarei ($ 13.6m) and Chinese owned Waste Management NZ  ($ 3.9m). The rest will go to five other firms and research institutes to investigate alternative uses for the tyres.

The Big Idea is for Waste Management to collect and shred the tyres using equipment paid for by the grant at plants in Christchurch and Auckland. The shredded material will then be freighted to the cement plant. There the tyres will be burned as fuel in the kilns, modified mostly at taxpayer’s expense (the company is putting up $ 4.5m) and thereby disposing of 3.1 million tyres per annum and reducing emissions by “13,000 tonnes per year, or the equivalent of 6000 cars.”  This saving is calculated on the basis that the rubber used in the tyres is a tree crop, whereas the coal it replaces is non renewable.

Sounds good? Not according to the NZ Product Stewardship Council.  It calls the Government’s plan a “False solution” which “won’t work” . In a scathing press release issued on the same day as the minister’s announcement,  the Council  argues that not only will the scheme not work but also that “ Smith’s solution continues to allow dodgy tyre companies to defraud consumers by charging $5 per tyre recycling fee- without any measures in place to ensure they are actually recycled”.

Existing tyre recyclers are not happy either.

In Christchurch, Tyre Collection Services owner Daryl Shackleton said the move threatened “the livelihoods of several other businesses and their staff”.”It’s going to create unfair competition. [Golden Bay Cement is] getting free money to do what we’re already doing.


Adding to the criticism, Green Party spokesperson Denise Roche had this to say

“Rather than burning millions of taxpayer money on corporate welfare and polluting the environment, the Government should put a price on tyre waste at the point of sale,”

The Greens concern about polluting the environment presumably stems from concern about the emissions from the kilns. The Minister’s press release assures the public that the high temperature used “minimises pollutants “ released into the atmosphere. This confident assertion begs the questions: What pollutants are emitted, in what quantities and under what conditions?

Both the Greens and the NZ Stewardship Council see the best solution as a  point of sale levy of about $5 per new tyre which would then be used by the industry to deal effectively with the stream of end of life tyres (probably by incineration ) and also generate sufficient funds to eventually clean up existing piles of legacy tyres. This, in essence, was the plan proposed by the tyre industry in 2016 after much consultation and research. The plan was rejected by Minister Smith.

So,  Corporate Welfare or a sensible plan? The 3R Group, which oversaw the development of the industry’s scheme, welcomed the government’s announcement, but with reservations.

There is no doubt that this is a positive step forward in dealing with the more than five million tyres that reach their end of life each year in New Zealand,” said 3R Chief Executive Adele Rose, “however we are disappointed that these initiatives are not part of a wider product stewardship approach for tyres.”

If the National Party and Nick Smith are re-elected in September, we can only hope that their alternative scheme works and that New Zealand’s problem with end of life tyres is sorted. However, it seems that there are knowledgeable people in the industry who see it as, at best, only a partial solution and at worst a predictable failure.


Christine writes:

I understand that a % of car tyres is made from natural rubber the other is from synthetic rubber. The natural rubber vs synthetic rubber solution doesnt assist much either if the natural rubber requires destroying native forests and the synthetic rubber relies on fossil fuels .  Im not sure of the percentages ( possibly 50:50)  but it appears that the qualities of natural rubber are so unique that tyres in most motor vehicles  need a % of it to function as we want them to ( i.e. not like they are made out of wood). I think a greater % of synthetic rubber can go into heavy duty/truck etc.. tyres would need to check this.  Despite the existence of an international research consortium tasked with finding alternatives to natural rubber  ( including other crops that may grow in more temperate climates) massive areas of pristine Indonesian, Malaysian, African and South American  native forest are daily cut down to plant rubber trees so we can drive comfortably in our vehicles. The fact that rubber comes from a plant doesnt make it an intrinsically good source of the rubber we crave for our tyres. It is a Palm Oil situation of sorts ( Palm Oil vs Dairy both have a negative impact on the environment). Growing palm oil involves cutting down native forests if you dont do that due to consumer pressure producers ( e.g. of chocolate) put  dairy products back in which  involves polluting water resources. So there need to be alternatives both in production and consumption e.g.  eat less / no chocolate would be one as cocoa bean production also involves cutting down indigenous forests.

·        Drive less/ carless days. 2014 NZ Stats travel data : Car as driver = 6811 kms/person /yr , Cyclist = 70 kms/person/year. Jury out on cost – effectiveness of cycle ways

·       Burning rubber for cement works what are the air pollution issues at stake ?  regulations for affect on population etc..

·       Vastly Improved public transport + $$ ploughed into marketing for minimising car usage culture change car pick-ups from schools etc...

·       CCC charges $9/tyre for resident to dump at the Eco Depo