Category 18 April 2019

Recycling waste tyres in South Africa

In South Africa, the recycling rate for vehicle tyres increased from 4% to 60% in the space of 3 years after the implementation of a new waste management plan. A new circular economy strategy was developed, whereby used tyres were collected from dealers, brought to dedicated depots, and then transported to processing plants for recycling. All activities were funded by introducing a tax instrument that placed a levy on all new tyres.

The challenge:

In 2011 it was estimated that 60 million used tyres could be found on South African soil – more tyres than people. With a further 11 million new tyres entering the market each year, and a recycling rate of only 4%, the situation was a growing societal problem. Not only was this linear economic model a waste of raw materials, informal disposal methods (such as burning) exacerbated the ecological damage, threatening human health. It was also an economic headache for dealers who had to find space to store the used tyres, and pay for their removal.

The measure:

With the aim of kick-starting the widespread recycling of used tyres, the government of South Africa approved the REDISA Integrated Industry Waste Tyre Management Plan (IIWTMP) in 2012.

The plan outlined a unique approach, based on the concept of extended producer responsibility, whereby tyre producers (both domestic manufacturers and importers) would themselves pay for the recycling of their products.

A fee of R2.30 (€0.14) per kilogram was levied on all new tyre rubber. Proceeds were used to establish an infrastructure for tyre collecting and downcycling, and pay for its administration. The scheme is administered by REDISA, the Recycling and Economic Development Initiative of South Africa, an independent body. 

To facilitate collection and recycling, REDISA established a network of ‘transporters’ and a series of depots, where tyres could be stored. Upon request the transporters collect used tyres from registered dealerships. They then bring the tyres to the depot, and are paid for the volume of tyres delivered.  From the depot, the waste tyres are then sent to processing centres, where they are turned into new products or energy.

As well as managing this infrastructure, REDISA funds research and development, looking for new processing methods and higher value applications for waste tyres. It is linked to the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, and Stellenbosch University. REDISA also carries out promotional activities, informing actors in the tyre industry and raising consumer awareness.

Within 3 years, REDISA increased the recycling rate of new tyres to over 60%, from a baseline of 4%. At the same time, over 200 SMEs, including transporters, depot owners and micro-collector cooperatives were established to implement the scheme. In total over 3000 new jobs were generated. Due to the method of financing, all this was achieved at zero cost to the public purse.

Lessons learnt:

The plan employed a very elegant financing mechanism: by targeting manufacturers and importers with fiscal measures, the financial responsibility for the collection of waste tyres is passed back to the source of the problem. This attaches a value to waste tyres and incentivising their return to the depots.

Considering the very low level of recycling before the scheme was introduced, REDISA had to begin from scratch to build a functioning infrastructure. Though this presented a challenge, it also meant that a fully joined up supply chain could be developed, setting up synergies and utilising modern communication methods – transporters, for example, receive requests to pick-up tyres by text.

One problem that the scheme encountered was what to do with all the tyres – the recycling and processing plants struggled to cope with the volumes collected. As a result, many tyres had to be used for energy (not the most ecologically advantageous application), or even exported for further processing.

Further deployment:

With the rapidly growing number of vehicles around the world, the disposal of end-of-life tyres is a growing issue. REDISA have created a functioning system which could be copied in many other territories. It is estimated GML 8.