Tyre recycling and energy generation – why the time is now


Early in 2020 our Prime Minister tentatively suggested a plan to ban the export of all UK tyres. Since then, justifiably, the message has become somewhat diluted yet, with strict recycling, energy from waste and environmental targets to meet over the next twenty years or so, it’s time to press ahead in raising awareness and unlocking ways in which we can ensure it delivers a positive impact for the UK.

One sector where great benefits can be reaped is waste tyres, a subject close to our hearts. Rory Hughes, Technical Director at IRR Waste 2 Energy, and a waste and recycling expert with over 35 experience in the industry, commented on how adopting a more holistic approach to tyre recycling is the way forward.

It’s a well-known fact that tyres have been banned from British landfill since 2003 and shredded tyres since 2006 but with almost 50m waste tyres in the UK each year, that’s a whole heap of tyres that we need to dispose of.

Currently, there is a network of accredited tyre recyclers in the UK that collect, recycle and repurpose as required. Yet still there is a need for UK waste tyres to be exported to cope with the amount we generate; a concerning prospect especially if the muted ban came to fruition.

Looking to the future it is imperative that we find ways that our industry can reap the benefits of waste tyres across construction, other by-products and energy.

No time to waste

Recently, a new report ‘No time to Waste – Resources, Recovery and the Road to Net-Zero’ was released which highlighted the importance of prioritising an energy-from-waste policy that would see the nation tackling its waste problem sustainably.
The report from Policy Connect states that ‘we should, as other European economies do, treat residual waste as a valuable resource to produce low carbon heat and energy’

Explaining that waste management should form a key part of the UK focus on being net-zero carbon by 2050, the report highlights that diverting waste away from landfill has to be the preferred option. Every tonne of waste diverted from landfill to EfW saves 200kg of Co2, while generating low carbon energy and heat.

The report also stresses the importance of Government support and intervention and the role that they can play in driving forward investment initiatives to ensure more energy from waste initiatives are created to play a part in tackling waste management, recycling and non-fossil fuel energy generation.
Whilst this may prove something of an obstacle for the public sector, the private sector is ideally placed to begin to unlock the benefits of generating energy from waste such as end of life tyres. Yet, it is perhaps this seeming lack of cohesiveness that poses the most challenges for the energy from waste sector, as a whole.

Circular in more ways than one

By exploring the newest options for responsible tyre recycling a raft of opportunities are presented that supports the circular economy model and vision. By recycling tyres in a way that generates no further waste, either by re-purposing them or supporting the energy from waste sector, the tyre industry can have a positive effect on how it processes and handles its waste in the UK.

By exploring the possibilities, we could become an industry that is a champion in terms of how we deal with what we manufacture and what happens when it is no longer useful in its original state. It’s an exciting possibility and one that we should be exploring to the full.

As an industry we should embrace the challenge and begin to also educate each other, in partnership, to harness the possibilities of integrating tyres into a truly circular process.
It appears that there are still huge swathes of people in influential positions that have not heard of, or do not appreciate how we could generate energy from end of life tyres. Perhaps it’s just that it is taking time for word to spread, perhaps its perceived that original investment costs can be prohibitive, or perhaps it’s a lack of a cohesive strategy from Government.

Perhaps this is where we can all play our part as we begin to understand the technology, understand the process and understand the benefits that can be reaped by choosing this circular way to help tackle waste tyres and generate energy from a non-fossil fuel source.

Pyrolysis positivity

So, how does pyrolysis work and what are the positive impacts it can deliver on our industry? Simply, it is where waste material, typically that which is hard to recycle, is subject to heat and results typically in a by-product of oil and carbon char. It is important because of the way that it has minimal environmental impact, and that it generates valuable commodities rather than further waste.

It is fair to say that there is some misconception surrounding pyrolysis when, in reality, it is a process that can deliver a significant impact on recycling and waste from energy targets.
Simply, it has the potential to enable a business to be able to go ‘offgrid’, reducing emissions, generating further commodities for sale, removing additional spend on fossil fuel generated power, and tackling our waste and recycling issues head-on. When applied to the tyre industry it can tackle the wider issue of what happens to our tyres when they are no longer fit for purpose.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, as an industry, we were already driving forward our own waste to energy initiatives so that should an export ban be introduced, we were already making great strides into disposing of our waste tyres responsibly. Coupled with a firm emphasis on supporting the UK desire to achieve a circular economy wherever possible, it seems to us that there’s a lot of untapped potential in relation to tyres and waste to energy.