Did you know that a tyre dump on fire can burn for months and even years, spewing toxic pollution into the air? Tyres are also the perfect habitat for disease carrying mosquitos, and have been implicated in the spread of dengue and ross river fever. Tyres are recognised internationally as one of the most hazardous wastes.
Until recently the used tyres from our cars and trucks were dumped either in Australia or in developing countries in Asia where they were often burnt in primitive incinerators. We estimate over 48 million tyres have been dumped in Australian bushland or in abandoned warehouses (which often catch fire in suspicious circumstances), contributing to a poor recycling rate of 16%.
The reasons why Australia has had such a low recycling rate include lax laws, disinterested retailers, undercutting of legit recyclers by rogue operators, and the absence of any product stewardship scheme (despite being promised one in 1990!).
So Boomerang undertook an intensive campaign during 2013-15 by undertaking investigations, applying market pressure and lobbying ministers and regulators. We uncovered numerous examples of illegal activity, in particular breaching of fire safety rules and planning consents. Rogue tyre collectors and so-called recyclers often simply ignore safe procedures and rarely have insurance or even fire hydrants. This allows them to undercut the charges of genuine and safe recyclers. Over a five year period the rogues and their cheap disposal options (dumping or export) actually drove several legit Australian recyclers out of business.
To end this we have worked with the Australian Tyre Recyclers Association to clean up their members and adopt independent, monthly auditing.
We have also pressured the tyre dealers (such as Bridgestone) to only send their used tyres to genuine and safe recyclers. To their credit they have instituted a rigorous audit program of their stores and insisted on only using proven collectors and recyclers. Groups like Bob Jane were already compliant, and other retailers soon joined in. It was great to see market intervention by an NGO working so well to make rapid changes.
Unfortunately Australian Governments had dropped the ball on regulating the industry. They had weak rules and made minimal compliance effort. We pressed NSW, Victoria and Queensland to get tough on the industry. Over the last year we have seen new laws come into operation and hundreds of inspections by environment protection, local council and fire safety officers (and many fines and clean up orders).
As a result of our campaign, tyre recycling grew to almost 50% over 18 months building green business. The Australian government also launched Tyre Stewardship Australia, an industry sponsored scheme. It has some serious teething problems and we are insisting they implement high standards before accrediting recyclers and retailers to use their logo and claim environmental credentials.
We have also produced “Tyre Life, a comprehensive guide to managing Australian tyres’, the most thorough report on used tyre stewardship yet. It sets the standards the community and the environment deserve (you can find it at www.tyrelife.org.au).
It’s been a great success so far, but over coming months we’ll continue to watchdog the industry, regulators and Tyre Stewardship Australia.
Want to know more about our tyre campaign? Check the Skids website. The Skids is an environmental campaign by Boomerang Alliance which aims to put the brakes on Australia's toxic tyre trade.