By Sharad P Matade
End-of-life tyres (ELT) or waste tyres are a chronic environmental issue in western countries and so now in India. The only difference is that India has started tackling this issue recently, but not effectively as its western counterparts.
As India is riding on robust growth, more and more vehicles are hitting the roads, so are tyres. In the last five fiscals (FY10 to FY15), the tyre industry in the country has grown at a CAGR of 12%. On the flip side, the impressive growth has brought in its wake more challenges to the environment.
According to reports, globally 15 million tonnes of waste tyres are generated annually, out of which India contributes one million tonnes. Knowing the impact of waste tyres on environment and cumbersome processes to dispose them of, developed countries have not only banned imports of waste tyres, but also are aggressively pushing exports of such tyres to developing countries such as China, India, Southeast Asian countries, Middle-East and some African nations. Countries which are less serious about waste tyres impact are the preferred destination for disposal of waste tyres.
New import policy
In April this year, the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 notified by the Union Ministry of Environment, Government of India, replaced its older version made in 2008. Under the new rule, import of waste tyres for direct reuse purpose is completely banned. However, the rules allow import of waste tyres for pyrolysis and recycling.
According to a senior executive of an Indian company which provides green technologies in the fields of waste recycling/ tyre recycling, the new rule on imports of waste tyres will give a boost to imports of waste tyres for pyrolysis and for making reclaimed rubber.
“With the new notification, which is likely to be implemented very soon, waste tyres can now be imported in India without any hassle and this will fuel business of pyrolysis and reclaimed rubber.”
According to him, between January and March 2016, around 70,000 tonnes of waste tyres have already been imported. “So you can guess how much waste tyres will come into India after the new rule is enforced.”
“Waste tyres will continue to come into the Indian market. We are not concerned for what purposes they are penetrating into the market, but they are not complying with the regulations and this is the biggest concern for the industry,” says Rajiv Budhraja, Director General of Automotive Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (ATMA), the apex industry body representing the Indian tyre industry.
According to Budhraja, the regulations should be enforced stringently so that it will make sure that the waste tyres coming into India either in a shredded form or cut in two pieces cannot be plied on vehicles.
Tyre pyrolysis
Waste tyres are mainly disposed of through pyrolysis and landfill and are also used for making reclaimed rubber and for other purposes.
Since tyres are made to last long, the same properties that make them durable also make them difficult to break down. Disposing of tyres in landfills or stockpiles can cause severe environmental and health concerns. In many cases, tyre stockpiles end up being burnt, releasing toxins and pollutants into air, water and soil.
Tyre pyrolysis business has always attracted controversies in India. In 2011, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) shut down 45 oil-producing pyrolysis units citing complaints of air and odour pollution. According to reports, the units were found to be using substandard technology imported from China. The GPCB also found that the units emitted carbon particles in the air while the foul odour was a result of the methane gas emission.
Such substandard plants emit chemicals such as toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, which could harm the nervous and respiratory systems, and benzene, dioxans, furans, 1,3 -Butadiene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are carcinogens.
For an ideal pyrolysis plant, an investment of Rs 200 million to Rs 300 million is needed to meet the requirement of having eco-friendly machines and to comply with other requirements. “Since a pyrolysis project is capital intensive, pyrolysis plants, with cheap Chinese equipment which are already banned in China itself, are set up in interior parts of the country to avoid attention of authorities,” points out Budhraja.
According to an industry veteran, over 2,000 pyrolysis plants are running in the country and the business of tyre pyrolysis will flourish further once import of waste tyres increases after the new rule comes into effect.
“Many tyre experts claim that no pyrolysis plants are working in India. If this is true, why don’t we see landfills of waste tyres in India as we see in the Middle East or other western countries? Pyrolysis plants have always been there and will be there,” he says.
Reclaimed rubber business
Another main consumer of waste tyres is reclaimed rubber. However, global slowdown has adversely affected reclaimed rubber business. “Getting waste tyres for making reclaimed rubber has not been a problem for us. But now the market is going through a tough phase. Both local and export markets are down, if the situation continues, it will be difficult to run the business,” says one of the biggest reclaimed rubber makers in India.
Between 2001 and 2014, reclaim as a percentage of total rubber consumed globally jumped from 2.1% to 5.4%, according to figures presented by Harsh Gandhi of India-based GRP Ltd during the BIR World Recycling Convention & Exhibition in Dubai. China and India exceeded the world average last year with estimated reclaim shares of 11.3% and 8.2% respectively.
There is adequate capacity for tyre manufacturing in India and in fact tyres manufacturerd in India are exported. Therefore there is no need to import second hand pneumatic tyres for direct use.
However, if the Government doesn’t regulate import of waste tyres into India, it could lead to misuse and badly hit the domestic tyre industry. Also, the Government needs to set quality standards for the pyrolysis business and promote use of waster tyres in various beneficial applications as done by many countries.