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Driving change – tackling waste tyres

Have you ever thought about what happens to your old car tyres? In South Africa, around 11 million waste tyres are discarded each year.

When accumulating in landfills or the natural environment, tyres release harmful chemicals that pollute and disrupt ecosystems. And, when exposed to sunlight, waste tyres emit methane gas that adds to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – thereby amplifying our planet’s natural greenhouse effect and turning up the dial on global warming.

Approximately 6.1 million metric tonnes of tyre dust finds its way into Earth’s atmosphere and waterways each year. This dust ranks among the most prevalent sources of microplastic pollution in our oceans, with evidence of its presence even in remote regions like the Arctic.

In 2019 alone, the Waste Management Bureau (WMB) reported a staggering 170,000 tonnes of waste tyres in South Africa. Although an encouraging 77% was collected, just 24% was eventually processed.

With only a few waste tyre processors operating in SA, there’s a drastic need for innovative waste tyre processing and recycling solutions. The South African government has recognised the waste crisis and introduced a mandatory levy as part of its Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy.

EPR is a proven policy tool for the sustainable organisation and financing of specific waste streams, such as discarded packaging (OECD, 2016). In EPR systems, producers are responsible not only for health and safety issues associated with their products, but also for the management thereof, including funding collection, sorting and recycling of their packaging waste. The required costs are internalised into the product price, and higher costs for non-recyclable or difficult to recycle packaging are intended to motivate industry to eco-design their packaging (EXPRA, 2021). These financial flows from the obliged industry are an effective way of implementing the ‘polluter pays principle’.

As SST, we are encouraged by the government’s proactive measures, but the scale of the problem highlighted in this story underscores the critical and urgent need for responsible waste management and environmental stewardship in South Africa. EPR is a way to achieve a circular economy but the design and implementation of EPR schemes are key to their effectiveness.

Key considerations when designing an EPR system include:

  • Clarify the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders involved, specifically the ‘Producer’. It is important to clearly define who bears what part of the financial and operational responsibilities to fulfil the objectives and targets.
  • Ensure funding is dedicated and ring-fenced, ongoing and sufficient. Every producer pays a fee when introducing a packaged good into the market. This fee is proportional to the amount of packaging being introduced and must cover the collection, sorting and recycling of the packaging waste.
  • Ensure robust target-setting and transparent reporting, monitoring, and enforcement. Effective EPR regulations should not only clearly set out targets but should also outline the methodology for measurement.
  • Discourage overreach. EPR policy tends to evolve. Policy makers are therefore advised to start with the most pressing challenges rather than attempting to implement EPR across the board, which can result in the scheme being difficult to manage and enforce, and subsequent low compliance.

EPR schemes, if implemented effectively, can provide several benefits and opportunities (OECD, 2016), including increased collection, recovery and recycling rates, reduction of public spending on waste management, and design for the environment, such as increasing the durability and reusability of products. There is further significant potential benefit from including the informal sector in EPR systems in terms of effective waste management operations and facilitating affordable and sustainable financing in countries where waste management systems are limited. Inclusion also provides opportunities for providing informal workers with sustainable livelihoods and income opportunities.

To help the tyre industry achieve its sustainability goals, visit SST’s Recycling and Waste Locations Map and filter by type to find a tyre and rubber recycler near you.

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