You probably don’t give the tyres on your car a lot of thought as you go about your daily life. At best you check the tyre pressure from time-to-time and maybe glance at the tread to see how much life’s left in them before it’s time to replace them with new ones.
And when that time comes, you probably don’t think much about what happens to the old ones you’ve just replaced, do you?
For a long, long time disused tyres have been a big environmental problem. Over 50 million tyres come to the end of their life in Australia each year. That’s three tyres every two seconds and dealing with that potential huge pile of waste is a huge challenge.
Waste tyres pose a number of problems. For starters they’re a serious fire hazard that can cause toxic emissions and property damage, and they’re notoriously hard to extinguish. They also take up a lot of space in landfill and can provide a home for feral animals, vermin and mosquitoes. Illegal dumping is a big problem for all these reasons.
It’s little wonder then that governments and industry are keen to control their disposal and encourage recycling. Across Australia there are laws regulating the handling of used tyres.
One industry body tackling the problem is Tyre Stewardship Australia. It’s using circular economy principles to put the material in tyres at the end of their life to good use through recycling, recovery and repurposing them.
Most of the major tyre manufacturers and retailers are onboard with the scheme that is putting the national Tyre Product Stewardship Scheme into practice. Its main aim is to develop markets for tyre-derived products, and already there are quite a few of them.
Old tyres are finding their way into roads, where crumbed rubber is being mixed with asphalt, making roads more durable and reducing cracking and rutting. Increasingly, the rubber doesn’t just hit the road, it is the road.
It’s also going into permeable paving that allows water to pass through it, improving soil moisture, watering trees and preventing runoff pollution to rivers and lakes.
Protectiflex is an innovative product using recycled tyres to make a spray-on concrete that’s blast, ballistic and fire-resistant.
It’s being developed by Flexiroc Australia, which sees it as a spray-on-solution for buildings that can protect people from “explosions, weapons and ballistics attacks, forced entry and fire.”
“When subjected to extreme blasts, ballistics and impact, conventional concrete masonry materials can create deadly shrapnel,” said Flexiroc’s managing director, Gary Bullock.
“We saw a need to create an innovative, eco-friendly and cost-effective concrete-like material to meet security and safety design,” he said.
In Western Australia, Lomwest Enterprises is sandwiching baled used car tyres between concrete panels to form modules that can be used for sound barriers, retaining walls, cyclone shelters and race-track impact barriers.
And in South Australia, recycled rubber is finding its way into concrete in a project developing Reinforced Crumbed Rubber Concrete for residential construction. Crumbed rubber is partially replacing sand in the concrete mix and increasing its toughness and impact resistance in the process, while also reducing shrinking. It’s also improving its acoustics and insulation.
They’re just some of the recycling initiatives seeking solutions to the problem of Australia’s 56 million waste tyres each year and putting into practice the challenging notion that there’s no such thing as waste, just resources that haven’t been put to good use yet.