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Tire waste statistics in 2024

11 minutes for read

End-of-life tires (ELTs) are more than discarded rubber in landfills.

They represent a significant environmental and social issue that demands our attention. Despite commitments to recycling and environmental responsibility, the problem of tire waste is escalating. Globally, an estimated one billion ELTs are discarded yearly, and this waste flow is growing dynamically.

But what’s causing this escalating problem? This article explores the impact of ELTs on our society and environment, as well as statistics and insights surrounding tire waste.

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A growing tire market

Tires are everywhere.

As we explore the tire market’s expansion, two key drivers emerge contributing to the increasing production of new cars and the subsequent rising demand for tires. These dynamics highlight how changes in the automotive industry affect tire use and waste management. 

The rise of new cars

With car production set to hit 98.9 million per year by 2025, the challenge of tire waste becomes clearer. In 2020, the European Union (EU) had 294 million passenger cars and 41 million trucks, and by 2040, the world is expected to have 2 billion cars and 790 million trucks. This means more tires are produced for those cars, and the issue isn’t going away.

Every year, millions of new vehicles hit the road. In 2022, about 65 million cars were sold, with slight growth from the 68 million sold in 2021. India and China are key markets, with India projected to have 150 vehicles per thousand people by 2040.

The rise of new tires

The increasing demand for new vehicles has surged the production of more tires worldwide. The EU is a prime example of this increase in tire production, with 4.2 million tonnes of tires manufactured in 2020. This robust production is fueled by 93 tire production centers scattered across the region.

However, the EU faces a notable imbalance between tire imports and exports.

In 2020:

  • Passenger and light commercial vehicle tires: 115.9 million imported, 75.2 million exported
  • Truck and bus tires: 5.86 million imported, 5.3 million exported
  • Moto and scooter tires: 8.83 million imported, 3.2 million exported
  • Agricultural tires: 5.07 million imported, 0.732 million exported

Addressing the import-export imbalance in the tire market, the EU could ramp up their recycling efforts. This may boost the supply of raw materials within the EU, potentially reducing the need to import tires. Moreover, by incorporating stronger sustainable initiatives for recycling used tires, they can create a more self-sufficient and environmentally conscious tire market.

The result: more tire waste

The more cars manufactured, the greater the volume of waste tires produced. This unyielding pattern isn’t sustainable. The petroleum-derived materials used in new tire production aren’t infinite resources. It’s time to reconsider the current approach to tire production and realign it with the principles of the circular economy.

Imagine this: In the USA alone, a staggering 317 million waste tires are discarded annually—9 tires every second. And every year, there’s a new waste tire for every person in the country.

What happens to all these tires once they’re no longer on the road? A significant portion of them, around 75%, end up in landfills. ELTs make up nearly 2% of total global waste, leading to environmental and health hazards due to improper waste management. 

Fortunately, technology exists to recycle nearly all tire components, from rubber to steel. Europe leads the way in tire recycling, giving tires a new life, and demonstrating that there are viable alternatives to dumping ELTs in landfills.

“We’ve been steadily moving toward the circular economy, where we will break the linear manufacturing model with circular solutions.

We’re at a stage where self-organization at a larger scale is happening, and the industry is more mature, organised, and competent.”

Krzysztof Wróblewski, CEO at Contec

Waste tire management

The proportion of ELTs sent to landfills in the EU decreased from 50% in 1996, to only 4% in 2015.

Various ELT treatment methods have been employed to reduce landfilling, including pyrolysis, recycling, retreading, and energy recovery. Despite these efforts, the current level of ELT recovery remains inadequate.

A 2019 report found that, globally, only 42% of ELTs were utilised in material recovery and 15% in energy recovery across 45 surveyed countries: Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the USA, and the European countries in the ETRMA scope.

In the EU, approximately 95% of ELTs were collected for recycling in 2019, amounting to 3.55 million tonnes. These tires were treated and used as follows:

  1. 55% or 1.95 Mt for material recovery, including recycling and civil engineering applications.
  2. 40% or 1.43 Mt for Energy recovery, primarily as fuel in cement kilns and power plants.
  3. 5% went through miscellaneous processes, including stockpiling.

Notably, millions of waste tires are repurposed as alternative energy sources, known as tire-derived fuel, and burned in kilns for cement, steel, pulp, and paper production.

This market is expected to expand in the future due to its cost-effectiveness and reported reductions in carbon emissions. Tire-derived fuel has the potential to mitigate the environmental impact of many industries while aiding in tire waste disposal.

The environmental impact of ELTs

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

Managing end-of-life tires

The properties that make tires durable can also make them slow to degrade if ELTs are not appropriately treated. 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, and tire fires are difficult to put out. Some piles have been left to burn for months, releasing toxic fumes that pollute air and water. 

Furthermore, in landfills, the chemical 6PPD added to tires reacts with ground ozone, producing a more toxic form, 6PPD-Q. Also, illegally dumped tires in oceans and seas trap marine animals. For example, over 200 hermit crabs get trapped in tires annually, where they remain stuck and starve.

The good news is that treatments for tire waste have produced measurable environmental benefits. Recycling ELTs and turning them into valuable commodities 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%.
  • CO2 emissions of 2.5 tonnes CO2 for each tonne of virgin carbon black produced.

Wear and tear waste effects

The wear and tear of car tires generates almost 2,000 times more particle pollution than modern car exhausts. In the UK, for instance, around 52% of all the small particle pollution from road transport came from tire and brake wear, plus a further 24% from abrasion of roads and their paint markings. Just 15% of the particle pollution came from car exhausts, and a further 10% came from the exhausts of vans and HGVs.

Tire-wear particles comprise tire fragments, synthetic rubbers, fillers, and road surface particles ranging from nano to microscale and contribute to environmental contamination. With approximately 6 million tonnes of tire wear particles released globally each year, the consequences are twofold: 

  • Tire particles make up 5-10% of ocean microplastic pollution, posing risks to aquatic life and human health as they enter the food chain.
  • 3–7% of particulate matter in the air comprises tire particles, exacerbating air quality issues and impacting public health.

Tire waste is a global problem

The waste produced from ELTs significantly impacts the environment and the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. This global waste problem must 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 (ConBlack®), recovered Tire Pyrolysis Oil (ConPyro®), and recovered Steel (ConWire®) from ELTs as sustainable alternatives to current industrial production.

Get in touch to learn more about our solutions.

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