What happens to used tyres in SA?
Phuti Mpyane investigates what is being done to deal in an environmentally friendly way with millions of waste tyres
In SA, it is estimated that 11-million waste tyres are lying in dumps, as stockpiles or simply scattered across residential, industrial and rural areas. Thousands of tons more are added to that dangerous level every year.
Where do used tyres go?
The answer to this question depends largely on who you are and the intended usage. For individuals who use the services of tyre-repair centres, they are left behind and a collection system swallows them up.
Some end up as dirty piles in the backyard or garage. Some used tyres are stacked on the sides of roads to be sold in the informal market, ending up on vehicles and raising alarming worries about road safety.
It is estimated that only 10% of overall waste generated in SA is recycled, of which 2% is processed in waste-to-energy programmes. The remainder ends up in landfill sites.
The risks to the environment are innumerable. Waste tyres are harmful to people and the environment because of acid smoke produced in tyre fires and an oily residue left after the burn. There is also risk of poisonous microbes seeping into underground water.
The Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of SA (Redisa) was appointed in November 2012 as a section 21 company to collect waste tyres under the integrated industry waste tyre management plan. Back then, the late minister Edna Molewa laid out the government’s intention to make it illegal to dump waste tyres at any landfill in the country.
The plan imposed a levy of R2.30 per kilogramme on each newly purchased tyre and Redisa used the money to recycle used tyres and to research new technologies to dispose of tyres without polluting the environment.
Redisa was liquidated in 2017 after litigation was instituted against the establishment by the same minister who approved the industry waste tyre management plan. She cited conflict of interest in court papers after the discovery that some of the then Redisa directors had shareholding in Kusaga Taka Consulting, a privately owned company that was contracted to manage the implementation of the grand plan.
A new Waste Management Bureau has been set up in its place.
Used tyres considered unsafe for reuse are stored for collection by appointed agents, and the Waste Management Bureau collects all of the scrap casings. Old tyres are recycled into rubber crumbs which are used as fillers to make artificial turf and athletic tracks.
They can be repurposed for the manufacture of solid forklift tyres. Worn tyres are used in the creation of softer, quieter and rubberised asphalt and bitumen while a good chunk of the old rubber is also used as fuel for an assortment of industrial waste-to-energy purposes, most notably by the cement manufacturing industry. However the latter usage pollutes the air.
There’s already a worrying indication of things going awry with the Waste Management Bureau, as it is being hamstrung by a parliamentary and legal wrangling to appoint a CEO.
Department of environmental affairs spokesperson Albi Modise says: “The CEO of the Waste Management Bureau has not yet been appointed but the recruitment process is under way.”
Without a CEO, could we say the Waste Management Bureau is operating efficiently?
Despite the unclear post collection protocols, the R2.30/kg new tyre levy continues unabated. Some quarters have labelled it as another hidden trough of raking in taxes to be used elsewhere. Can we assume that there is something of a plan to deal with the 11-million odd waste tyres rotting away?
At the time of publishing, the environmental affairs department had not replied to more questions posted on the performance of the Waste Management Bureau since its implementation and how many waste tyres it has recycled.