The recovery and reuse rate for used tyres has been essentially static since the previous Government challenged the tyre industry in 1993 to retread 25% and recover 65% by 2000. In 1996, the first report of the used tyre working group, established by the DTI and the industry, put the combined rate at just 73%.
The group's latest figures show there has been no progress since then, adding to pressure for a statutory producer responsibility scheme. Earlier this year, the DTI said it would issue a consultation paper this autumn outlining how a legal responsibility for tyre recovery could be applied to industry. The paper was expected to spell out which types of business - tyre manufacturers, importers, retailers or car producers - should bear the financial burden (ENDS Report 306, pp 12-13 ).
However, ENDS understands that, at a meeting of the working group in November, industry representatives were surprised to hear that the DTI has postponed publication of the paper for "some months".
The reasons are unclear. One observer suggested that the delay could be because car producers are putting pressure on tyre manufactures to shoulder some of the burden. Under the EC Directive on end-of-life vehicles, car producers will have to increase the recovery of scrap from old cars - including tyres.
Another suggestion is that the Government intends to impose a levy on tyre manufactures and importers but wants to wait until reaction to recently announced job losses in the tyre industry has abated.
The pressure on the DTI to come up with proposals may have lessened now that the Government has indicated that landfilling of tyres may continue until 2009. The EC landfill Directive specifies a deadline of 2003 for banning landfilling of whole tyres, but the Government is now arguing that it applies only to new landfills (ENDS Report 309, pp 35-38 ).
However, the working group continues to look to 2006 as the key date for the ban, and "firmly believes this is the prudent approach to take." Precisely when the ban on tyres will bite for existing landfills will become clearer when the Environment Agency reviews landfill "conditioning plans", from July 2002, when operators will have to explain how they propose to upgrade to landfill Directive standards.
The latest figures from the working group together with its annual report are now on its website. 1 They show that the reuse and recovery rate remained at 73% in 1999 (see table
Since 1997, there appears to have been a significant increase in reuse. The group estimates that 62,000 tonnes were reused in 1999, of which 10,000 tonnes were exported, 32,000 tonnes reused as part-worn tyres, and the remainder reused in other applications such as silage clamps and dock fenders.
The part-worn market offers considerable scope for unscrupulous dealers to avoid responsible recovery routes. The group's report warns that a significant number do not meet the safety requirements for tyres, and anticipates "growing pressure from a number of sources, including the ELV [end-of-life vehicles] chain and imports, to grow the part-worn market."
Recycling has also seen significant growth. Recyclers believe the development of European standards across the rubber crumb sector is vital to make recycled product more acceptable. Meanwhile, several trials involving the use of rubber crumb in road surfaces and concrete are under way. A road surface laid in Surrey in June 1999 is performing well, and the Highways Agency is hopeful that by the end of the two-year trial several other examples will be under evaluation.
The proportion of used tyres sent for energy recovery, however, fell from 29% to 16% last year, with throughput at SITA's incinerator at Wolverhampton falling to around 50,000 tonnes. Output is expected to be much lower again this year following the announcement in June of a ten-month maintenance shutdown. The company is now reviewing whether to shut the plant altogether and an announcement was expected as ENDS went to press.
Cement kilns used around 20,000 tonnes in 1999 - about 10,000 tonnes less than the capacity of the two authorised kilns - Castle Cement's at Ketton, Lincolnshire, and Blue Circle's Cauldon kiln in Staffordshire. Within the next couple of years, the working group predicts that capacity will reach 80,000 tonnes, but this increase would do little beyond compensating for the closure of the SITA plant, if confirmed.
Tyres face competition for their use as fuel in kilns from other waste streams such as "Cemfuel", making it difficult to forecast future demand. This leads to market uncertainty across the industry and makes tyre reprocessors and suppliers reluctant to sign long-term contracts - in turn making it harder to raise finance for new projects.
The retreads market continued to shrink in 1999 in the face of competition from budget tyres and a poor image. The group had asked the DTI to discuss with other Departments the possibility of fitting retreads to Government vehicles - but progress, says the report, "has regrettably been slow."