This article was contributed by Green Rubber Global.
As of 2019, some 3 billion tyres are used each year, which gives you some idea of the number of motor vehicles currently on the roads around the world. A byproduct of this modern paradigm is 3 billion used tyres on an annual basis that exist once they’ve served their purpose and this presents a massive environmental challenge – what do we do with them all?
For decades, a measure taken to alleviate this ever-increasing problem has been to simply stockpile used tyres in landfill, but this practice has done nothing other than delay having to tackle the issue, causing a variety of other issues in the process. That’s because the various heavy metals that exist in used rubber tyres are known to be both carcinogenic and mutagenic and when left in one place for an extended period, these innate toxins can seep into the soil in which they sit.
Further to this, if any pollutants find their way into the groundwater, this contamination can end up affecting a far greater geographical area and it’s for this reason that disposing of end-of-life rubber tyres in landfill was outlawed throughout much of the developed world around 10-15 years ago.
The underlying fact behind this problem is that if something major isn’t done about the problem soon, the planet could end up going past the point of no return.
This wholesale dumping of used rubber tyres in landfill also causes a health hazard, as standing water that collects inside provides a perfect breeding ground for disease-spreading insects. This is especially the case in landfill sites in third world countries in Africa, Asia and South America that regularly import an enormous amount of used tyres from developed countries. Huge piles of used tyres in these regions are known to house zica-virus and dengue-virus-carrying Aedes mosquitos and pose an enormous threat to the health of those living in nearby communities.
Added to the issues relating to the toxicity of used rubber tyres, it is not an exaggeration to describe the problem as a looming environmental apocalypse that could leave its unwelcome mark on the world forever. It simply has to be dealt with and soon.
Disposal By Fire
Another method of used tyre disposal during the 20th century was combustion – in other words, to burn them. However, this causes serious harm to the environment, as these same chemicals and heavy metals are simply released into the air we breathe instead of being leaked into the soil. Not only that, used tyre fires are notoriously difficult to control and can get out of hand pretty quickly.
Tyre mountains are a massive environmental issue in places like Asia, and depending on their size, when they catch fire, they can stay alight for years, unable to be extinguished. The uncontrollable nature of tyre fires combined with the many associated ecological issues with the disposal of used tyres through combustion has led to it becoming illegal in many developed nations some years ago.
Repurposing is another method used to address the excess of rubber tyres, as recycling is virtually impossible. This is due to the vulcanisation process that rubber tyres go through to give them sufficient tensile strength for their intended purpose. Repurposing however is carried out at low levels and not seen as a viable tool with which to tackle what is a vast and widespread issue.
The planet is in desperate need of our help and as of yet, there is no ideal way to counter with the issue of used tyres, but it’s a problem that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later or it will become too late to rectify the damage being caused.
There have been calls from lobby groups for tyre manufacturers to find alternative materials with which to create tyres with silicone, one of the options that presently exists. However, in order for it and materials like it to become adopted on a wide-scale basis, they need to be economically viable. Alas, right now, they’re not and progress to change that state of affairs is slow.
It simply can’t be stressed enough of the significance of the danger posed to our environment by the paradigm of used rubber tyres. If meaningful action isn’t taken, and fast, the effects of the environmental devastation will be felt for decades or perhaps even centuries. The automotive industry shows no signs of slowing down the production of new rubber tyres, so the issue isn’t going to go away. It’s only going to get worse and frankly, we can’t afford for it to do so.
We need to act now and we need to act fast or an issue that is already out of hand could end up irrevocably damaged the environment for us and for future generations.