It is with considerable interest that I read of a planned investment of N.Z.$13.6 million into technology at a cement plant that uses shredded old tyres to make its products with.
There are significant issues with tyre dumps at large and include (but are not restricted to):
- Aesthetically displeasing to look at from the road, or air
- Tyre leachate includes highly toxic elements such as cadmium and zinc
- Tyre burning releases toxic smoke, which can be a health hazard downwind
New Zealand has been somewhat behind other countries in dealing with waste tyres. It is understood that tyres are generally useless for recycling purposes after about 10 years.
It is therefore important that New Zealand develop a policy framework that enables the recycling of tyres and encourages transport businesses to develop tyre recycling programmes in conjunction with local councils. Although this is apparently underway, the large number of old tyres in dumps, in makeshift storage facilities and other locations around New Zealand mean that there should be a sense of urgency about finishing the framework. Investments such as this where a large number of tyres can be used up – this would take out about 62% of our total annual tyre wastage, and leave about 38% or 1.9 million tyres still needing some sort of recycling.
Tyres also have oil in them. If one thinks a few steps beyond this, what is the feasibility of getting the oil out of unwanted tyres? Whilst not being certain of the answer, certainly it becomes a focus point for a potential future study to be done. Of course, this in itself then raises another set of questions such as whether or not the oil can be refined to a usable state.
A business was set up by a Neil Mitchell in 2014 calle Tyreless Corporation Limited. It was intended to be a processing plant that could extract oil from the thousands of waste tyres in the Hawkes Bay region. Unfortunately just over a year later it was put into insolvency.
A University of Waikato law professor, Alexander Gillespie, believes that the solution to New Zealand’s tyresome problem is to pass costs onto producers. This would act as an incentive for them to redesign their products.
I am not sure if Professor Gillespie means through a Pigovian tax that is designed to act as a disincentive to breach environmental standards. If so, this could only happen if a standard were developed for tyre disposal. It would be debatable whether or not fines would not be a better financial measure as some are dumped deliberately.
So, I await with interest to see where this goes, being aware that past attempts to deal with New Zealand’s tyre problem have not always worked out.