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Tire waste statistics you need to know

9 minutes for read

End-of-life tires (ELTs) are a major global waste problem. The tire business has made circular and environmental treatment of waste tires a priority, to recycle and recover raw materials. However, the waste problem still continues. In this article, the environmental impact of waste tires will be discussed and followed by several tire waste statistics that you should be aware of. Gain insightful statistics and information on this rising global waste problem.

ELTs as a source of pollution

What happens to a tire when it’s at the end of its life? ELTs make up nearly 2% of total global waste, and the waste leads to environmental and health hazards due to the improper waste management of ELTs. These tires have become a major source of pollution.

However, technology that can recycle and recover nearly all constituents of tires does exist – natural rubber, synthetic rubber made from plastics, steel, carbon black, zinc, sulfur, etc. We lose these recycled resource opportunities when ELTs are incarcerated, landfilled legally, or stockpiled illegally. 

The European landfill directive 1999/31/EC has spurred efficient treatments to turn ELTs into valuable sources of materials for various tire and engineering and non-engineering applications. As a result, Europe is the world leader in waste tire recycling.

Important tire waste statistics

A thorough deep dive into tire waste statistics provides an overview of the waste problem of ELTs. The problem exists at all angles – from the production of new cars to the volume of waste currently developing in landfills.

Rise of new tires: more waste

Transportation including air flights accounts for 95% of tires, while agriculture uses 5%. In 2021, 75.8 million new cars were sold globally, with imports to the EU accounting for 18.3% of the trade. Car production will reach 98.9 million by 2025. In 2020, the EU had 294 million passenger cars and  41 million trucks. And worldwide, by 2040 we will have 2 billion cars and 790 million trucks. With new car production increasing, it’s obvious that the ELT waste problem will not go away anytime soon.

Tire market statistics

Increasing demand for vehicles has resulted in the increased production of new tires. Tire production was at an all-time high in 2019, before the pandemic. 

In the EU, in 2020, there were 4.2 million tonnes of tires produced. While there are 93 tire production centers in the EU, the region’s import in all categories of tires is higher than its exports. In 2020, 

  • Passenger and light commercial vehicle tires import were 115.9 million and export was 75.2 million tires. 
  • Truck and bus tires import was 5.86 million and export was 5.3 million. 
  • Moto and scooter tires import was 8.83 million and export was 3.2 million. 
  • Agricultural tires import was 5.07 million and export was 0.732 million tires.

To reduce imports, the EU could aim for higher material recovery from tire wastes – and incorporate stronger sustainable reduce, reuse initiatives for ELTs.

ELT waste in volume

ELTs contribute to one billion units of waste each year worldwide and result in 2% of the total amount of solid waste. The EU discards over 300 million car and truck tires each year.

Waste tire management

ELTs sent to landfills have decreased from 50% in 1996 to only 4% or 0.13 million tonnes/year in the EU. The global averages are less significant, with 75% still ending up in landfills. ELT treatments to reduce landfilling include pyrolysis, recycling, retreading, and energy recovery.

About 32 countries in Europe collect 95% of ELTs. In 2019, this amounted to 3.55 million tonnes (Mt), which they treated and used as follows:

1. 54% or 1.95 Mt for material recovery, including recycling and civil engineering applications

  • 40% were recycled: 1.36 Mt for granulation, 476 tonnes for incorporation in cement
  • 3% or 112.95 Mt for civil engineering applications
  • 0.07% or 0.26 Mt for retreading 

2. 40% or 1.43 Mt were for Energy recovery

  • Cement kilns used 1.15 Mt as fuel
  • Power plants and co-incineration with other wastes used 0.1 Mt per year of tires

3. 5% went through miscellaneous processes, including stockpiling

Environmental impact of ELTs

Tire waste impacts the environment through air, water, and soil pollutants, and carbon emissions. When old tires end up in the environment, local wildlife and health concerns are just a few of the many problems that can arise.

Wear and tear waste effects

About 8,768 tonnes of wear and tear wastes end up in the environment, smaller particles are airborne and the heavier ones pollute water and the land:

  • 1040 tonnes or 12% end as air pollutants
  • 5871 tonnes or 67% enter the soil
  • 1043 tonnes or 12% enter waterways
  • 1337 tonnes or 15% end up in the sewers

These wastes result in two types of pollutants – microplastics and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5):

  • Wear and tear contribute to 5-10% of the microplastic pollution in oceans. Worldwide road and air traffic produce 550,000 tonnes of particles less than 0.01mm, half of which end up in the oceans. This is harmful to aquatic animals, which consume it by mistake, and to people as it enters the food chain.
  • Tire wear and tear produces 3–7% of the global PM2.5, which is a major cause of outdoor air pollution.

ELT tire waste management

The properties that make tires durable can also make them difficult to degrade if ELTs are not treated properly. Globally, two-thirds of the billions of ELTs remain untreated and end up as illegal dumps or landfills. These dumped tires have a negative impact, because they attract rodents, become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and emit chemicals as they decompose slowly.

Piling up millions of tires carries the risk of ignition. Some piles burn for months as they’re difficult to put out, releasing toxic fumes that pollute air and water. There have been over a dozen major tire flares in the USA and countries without proper tire treatment can suffer from many more fires in the future.

Furthermore, in landfills, the chemical 6-PPd added to tires reacts with ground ozone to produce a toxic 100 times more harmful than itself.

Illegally dumped tires in oceans and seas trap marine animals. For example, over 200 hermit crabs get trapped in a tire annually, where they remain stuck and deprived of food.

The good news is that treatments for tire waste have produced measurable environmental benefits. Reusing ELTs and turning them into useful commodities instead can prevent the emission of 613 CO2 kg eq. per metric ton. The environmental, social, and business benefits of tire recycling through pyrolysis include the reduction of

  • human toxicity (HTP) and ozone layer depletion (ODP) by 90%,
  • abiotic depletion (ADP) of fossil fuels and minerals by 84%, and
  • prevents CO2 emissions of 2.5 tonnes CO2 for each tonne of virgin carbon black produced.

Tire waste is a global problem

The waste produced from ELTs has a significant impact on the environment and the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. This global waste problem needs to be addressed at the business level with companies incorporating more sustainable product alternatives into their supply chain. And developing products that start with sustainable solutions.

At Contec, we enable tire manufacturers to do just this – by providing recovered Carbon Black, Oil, and recovered Steel from ELTs as sustainable alternatives to current industrial production. Get in touch to learn more about our sustainable solutions.

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