May 15, 2024

Waste & Recycling

Tyre recycling landscape in the Middle East: Challenges and solutions

Only about 15% of tyres that are disposed of yearly worldwide undergo an appropriate recycling process. This gap creates a unique opportunity for the Middle East region to become one of the leading examples in sustainable tyre management and recycling.

In a world that moves on wheels, the shadow of progress casts an ominous silhouette in the form of tyre waste. Over 2 billion tyres are discarded worldwide every year, a figure scarcely believable. It is an entirely acceptable fact, representing the extent of our dependence on vehicles for mobility. Alarmingly, two-thirds of the aforementioned torn-out tyres do not end up in recycling plants or serve other purposes. Instead, they are dumped in mounds stretching across cities and deserts alike, both legally and illegally.

Truly toxic landfills

With its bustling cities, extensive road, metro, rail, and airways networks, the Gulf region, akin to a number of progressive nations, ends up generating a substantial volume of tyre waste. These end-of-life tyres keep piling up in already exhausted landfills; their toxic chemicals seeping into the soil and groundwater. The consequences are quite detrimental for the people and the planet. 

Air Pollution: Studies have shown that the degradation of tyres contributes significantly to air pollution. Tyre-derived materials contribute to around 10% of air pollution. The risk is exacerbated when tyres catch fire in the landfills, the probability for which is very high. Most emissions contain noxious fumes made of toxic molecules, which adversely impact both the environment and human life. 

Ocean Microplastics: Shockingly, over 20% of microplastics in the oceans originate from tyre wear and degradation. The degradation of tyre-based products releases tiny particles right into rivers and other water sources, where they are responsible for causing a host of problems to the different forms of life associated with the water bodies. 

Health Risks: Toxic leachates from tyre mounds pose concerning health risks for nearby communities. Dumped tyre mounds are actually quite dangerous as the harmful chemicals from these tyres can seep into the groundwater, slowly but severely affecting the purity and potability of drinking water and putting human health at risk.

Opportunities ripe for restoration and recycling 

Only about 15% of tyres that are disposed of yearly worldwide undergo an appropriate recycling process. The methods that are currently in use often consume excessive energy and further contribute to carbon emissions and pollution. The Middle East, despite its ambitions for sustainability, mirrors this global trend, with recycling rates trailing far behind the mounting volumes of tyre waste. This gap creates a unique opportunity for the region to become one of the leading examples in sustainable tyre management and recycling, turning an enormous threat to environmental stability into an engine of green transformation. The existing model is not only unsustainable but also unsuitable from both economic and environmental perspectives.

Exploring emission-free tyre recycling

The shift towards innovative tyre recycling methods opens up new avenues for utilising recycled tyre materials. This paradigm shift mitigates the environmental hazards associated with tyre waste and unlocks economic potential in various industries. The zero emission tyre recycling solution, for instance, proposes establishing a network of compact tyre recycling units across the Middle East. These units, designed for efficiency and minimal environmental impact, have the capacity to treat up to 10 tonnes of tyres daily. Remarkably, they operate on merely a fraction of the energy required by conventional recycling methods. By establishing these facilities in proximity to the waste source, the solution markedly diminishes transportation costs and the carbon footprint associated with long-distance haulage. Innovative technologies that reduce emissions are employed instead of energy-intensive methods for the zero-emission tyre recycling process, which can run on renewable energy too. So, the recycling process does not contribute to pollution but actually aids in the restoration of environmental balance. The final recycling breakthrough comes with implementing and propagating the idea that tyre waste is not garbage but rather a valuable resource. Through the principles of the circular economy, recycled tyre materials can find new life in various applications, from construction materials, high quality steel wire, to textile. It further contributes to sustainability with its ability to provide raw materials, such as rubber granules, which could be utilised in pyrolysis by other entities, thus feeding into a larger ecosystem of waste-to-energy solutions. Pyroil, the tyre-derived fuel which is a by-product that is like crude oil or gas can be used as industrial fuel – it is as efficient as petroleum and 20% more efficient than fuel from coal.

Turning waste into opportunity

These tyre wastelands are much more than mountains; they are, in simple words, potential peril pools. Every tyre that is thrown into a landfill is a neglected chance to reduce, reuse, or recycle the tyre, pushing it further down the road towards an unnatural disaster. Let us collectively turn tyre mountains into stepping stones towards a greener, cleaner future. By confronting tyre waste rather than ignoring it, we can protect, and advance multiple interests that are vital to public health and environment conservation.

Zoltan Rendes is the CMO of SunMoney Solar Group and a European Union Climate Pact Ambassador. He is also the co-owner of Resun, a zero-emission tyre recycling solution provider.