Current tyre waste policies enabling ‘serious environmental harm’

The Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) has called on the Government to tighten waste regulations, fearing the UK may become a dumping ground for end-of-life tyres from EU nations.

The TRA - which advocates for proper collection, reuse and disposal of tyre waste across the UK - has warned the UK risks becoming the ‘environmental sick man of Europe’ after recent changes to EU legislation.

Pile of waste tyresIn February, the EU Parliament voted to update the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulations in a bid to ensure that waste exports are managed in a way that safeguards human health and the environment.

Under the new regulations, EU nations cannot send waste, including end-of-life tyres, to non-OECD countries unless that country can demonstrate the environmentally sound management of waste through auditing by independent bodies and monitoring by the European Commission.

As a result, the TRA explained, Britain gained “the unenviable reputation as the only major European nation legally able to export baled [whole] end-of-life tyres to countries like India”. 

The TRA and other professional recyclers fear that negligent European operators may turn to Britain to dump their tyre waste, and irresponsible British operators may facilitate this due to inadequate UK waste legislation.

India’s Automotive Tyre Manufacturers’ Association (ATMA) claimed that India imported around 800,000 tonnes of waste tyres between April and November 2023. The UK and EU member states were the majority contributors, with the UK supplying up to 35 per cent of imported end-of-life tyres.

‘Do the right thing’

In a letter to Robbie Moore MP, the Defra minister responsible for waste, the TRA called on politicians to “do the right and best thing - respond to the Indian calls to only export shredded tyres, grow our own circular environmentally responsible market and follow the very successful Australian example.”

Australia banned the export of most whole end-of-life tyres in 2020, as recycling and disposing of shredded tyres is significantly easier.

The letter continued: “far from tackling this environmental assault, current policies enable some UK operators to facilitate serious environmental harm.”

“It is embarrassing for us as an industry to know such malpractice takes place. It must be humiliating for those leading British policy-making to know how far the reality has drifted from their rhetoric. It is hard to find the green, environmental or circular in the current UK waste tyre policy framework, yet the solutions are clear and simple.”

Government refusing to engage

Peter Taylor OBE, Secretary General of the TRA, added: “Without the necessary policy update, Britain will shortly be the environmental sick man of Europe, home to unscrupulous operators taking malign advantage of the European Union’s tighter rules. Britain is set to be the only European nation exporting environmental waste beyond its shores without proper scrutiny or oversight.”

“Ministers have been sitting on their hands for too long, this must stop. The steps are simple and inexpensive. Four years ago this was acknowledged with the commitment to end the T8 exemption, yet still we wait for that legislation.”

“Now we see the European Union taking decisive action and, rather than recognising the benefits from aligning with that regulatory approach, our government refuses to engage. Are they really happy to sit back and watch our environmental responsibilities shipped to the other side of the world without comparable oversights?

“Currently the UK has at least 150,000 tonnes of licenced idle domestic recycling capacity of its own, but the business case for maintaining this is being undermined by political lethargy. If the government acted, we could be at the front of the environmental pack - building the circular economy we all want to see. But if the government does not act, we will see a decline in standards.”

The TRA’s comments join wider calls for the UK to reform its waste export policy. In January this year, UK plastic trade association RECOUP highlighted the significant increase in plastic waste exported by England to non-OECD countries. RECOUP called on the UK to reduce its reliance on exports and improve its recycling markets.

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