There are, despite evidence to the contrary, rules on the duty of care on the export of waste tyres from the UK, and often rules about the import of waste tyres in destination countries
The starting point is that no tyres (or waste) from the UK should be exported to another country unless the final recipient of that waste is able to return an Annex VII certificate stating that the final destination of that waste complied with UK regulations. The theory is that if no Annex VII is received the export should not have taken place. Any further exports to that destination would then clearly be a breach of the export rules. In fact, The Basel Convention says that the conditions for the Annex VII must be in place before any export takes place.
It might also be argued that if the UK exports goods to a country in contravention of the destination country’s regulations, then those exports are by definition, illegal.
Yet, the UK exports the majority of its tyres in contravention of the rules of the destination nation and with very few, if any Annex VII certificates being returned.
The reality of the Annex VII is that there is nobody representing the UK at the receiving nation to complete these forms and verify them, so nobody bothers completing them – and if they did, without checking and validating they would be worthless.
That notwithstanding, it raises questions about the UK’s Defra (Department for the Environment Farming and Agriculture) is truly concerned about our waste exports.
Monitoring and managing tyre exports from the UK would be a relatively simple task. Tyres are a mono-sector, they have limited sources, and their recovery can, largely be monitored and managed. In theory, the UK should know exactly how many tyres it manufactures, import, sell, recover, recycle, and export. All it really needs is some small changes to legislation and better enforcement and control.
UK Export records are not what we might wish
From past experience though, recording and checking of imports and exports are not what the public might expect. At one point, HMRC recorded the UK as exporting more retreaded tyres than it manufactured and imported put together. It would be a safe presumption that used tyres were, even then, being exported as retreaded tyres to get around waste tyre import issues in destination markets.
COP were advised that tyres were one of the five priority waste streams. However, Peter Taylor at the Tyre Recovery Association has been told by the Environment Agency that “there were more priority issues than tyres”, Defra has instructed the EA to focus on plastics first. The government says one thing to the world at COP but tells the industry a different story.
One tyre collector, Tedge Sagoo, who has plans to develop UK-based tyre processing operations and is facing obstruction by a UK planning authority in an area blighted by tyre issues, sent Tyre and Rubber Recycling a video, which he says was taken at an Indian tyre yard that was receiving baled tyres from the UK.
The video shows tyres being manually cut in India, to remove the sidewalls. Initially, Indian EPR rules had required three cuts to the bead of the tyre to prevent them from being re-used. However, Indian recyclers campaigned for a derogation of that rule, and gaining this concession contributed to a surge in the import of baled tyres.
Sagoo explained, “Uncut tyres from bales are being sold on in India and used on the roads. They are not suitable on a number of levels. Firstly, they are unfit for use on UK roads, so should be unfit for use in India, secondly, Indian asphalt is not the same as European asphalt and the tyres made for use in India are not the same as European tyres, so the used European tyres are not suitable for use on Indian roads.”
£1000 for a life?
Sagoo also spoke of tyres going to unsafe pyrolysis units; “We don’t see it in the news here, but there are accidents at these plants, explosions, gas releases and such, and people die as a result. Their families get paid around £1000, That is the price of a life in India. If we continue to supply these operations, then we are complicit in those deaths.”
It is not just India, though India is the major destination, followed by Pakistan, which has similar challenges. However, anyone who is familiar with tyre recycling in the UK, or Germany, will be familiar with the practice of an agent from some African state, going through the tyre compound collecting tyres for export, and doubling them tripling them, or baling them for export to some African state. Tyre and Rubber Recycling has reported in the past about illegal tyre imports to Swaziland, Nigeria, Ghana, and the Congo.
These tyres end up in street markets and are sold as “new” to the impoverished people of those destinations. Our governments allow this to continue. They make no efforts to prevent these illegal exports – remember, if it is illegal to import, it is by definition, illegal to export.
A moral question
There is a moral question here. We know that the UK imports large volumes of part-worn tyres from Germany and the Netherlands, some truck for retreading, but also large volumes of car tyres for sale as “part worn”. The UK is then, allowing tyres unfit for use on UK roads to be exported to other nations where they end up on vehicles. There is a clear statement in that process that a German/ Dutch life is worth more than a British life, and a British life is worth more than an African life. That is morally wrong. If a tyre is not safe on the UK roads, it cannot be safe on any road.
It should be stated that the UK is the only country in Europe with legal standards for part-worn tyres, but it would be difficult to find anyone selling part-worn tyres who is compliant.
The Indian government is aware of the challenge of tyre imports, and the Automotive Tyre Manufacturers’ Association remains adamant that India needs to clean up its own tyre waste before importing waste tyres. The Central Pollution Control Board is aware of the issues. The National Green Tribunal constantly lobbies against illegal imports, but the recycling sector is, in India, a wealthy and powerful lobby that insists that imported tyres are needed to support their sector.
Nine Corporation’s Chetan Joshi argues that if there were large tyre dumps in India needing recycled, why would the recyclers need to import waste tyres? It is a fair question.
One that another Indian recycler who requested anonymity responded to; “It is logistics. It is getting tyres from their place of arising in some remoter areas, to the locations of the recycling plants. The logistics cost in India, of collecting, storing, shipping etc., is greater than the cost to import from the UK in many cases.” Which ignores any carbon footprint concerns.
Failure at both ends of the government chain
So, we have two governments whose own regulations say that waste tyres are subject to export/ import regulations, and at both ends of the chain, those rules are being ignored or abused.
It is worth noting that Chetan Joshi has established a tyre shredding plant in Brisbane, Australia to ensure continued feedstock in the face of the Australian ban on whole tyre ELT exports.
Does it matter? Well, in the UK (and Germany), it matters significantly. The volume of exports is so immense that it is undermining the development of recycling in the domestic markets. Cheap, virtually uncontrolled collection and export undermines legitimate collection and recycling. Legitimate, permitted businesses have higher operational costs than someone operating with a T8, even more so illegal operators with no T8, who just fill containers and ship the tyres out. That drives legitimate recyclers who want to create higher-value products to chase the lowest common denominator and they join the export drive, undermining their own business plans. Dial in the current higher energy costs and capital expenditure for a processing plant, place that against a shortage of feedstock created by exports, and some recyclers cannot meet the demands of domestic contracts. One processor told Tyre and Rubber Recycling that he could not acquire enough granulate in the UK to meet a sports field contract – people were not generating the granulate because of the cost and the lack of suitable feedstock. Two others reported that they had lost a tyre-derived fuel contract because they could not secure the 50,000 ton feedstock required for the contract at a viable price due to the export agencies offering low-level operators a quick turnaround for cash in the bank.
In a letter to Defra, from the Tyre Recovery Association, the Association wanted to make it clear to the Secretary of State for the Environment that the Environment Agency had been advised of the abuse of ELT exports, yet the Agency had washed its hands of responsibility, quoting; “… we do not have the powers to prohibit the movement of whole tyres to India. The control of tyres to India is implemented by the UK retained regulations concerning the export for recovery of Green listed wastes to Non-OECD countries. Any amendments to controls on waste exports would be subject to formal consultation requirements and require a legislative change, which is the responsibility of Defra.”
The letter also quoted The Secretary’s own words from Hansard; “We made sure that [Michelin] kept its factory here so that we could have retreading and remanufacturing. It is with that sort of approach—making sure that we really promote the circular economy—that we can try to tackle some of the issues that arise from plastics [in tyres].” (The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Thérèse Coffey, Hansard, Column 308, Volume 728: debated on Thursday 23 February 2023)
The Tyre Recovery Association‘s Peter Taylor is renowned as a diplomat and one who is very careful with his words. So, this strongly worded letter to the Secretary of State underlines the seriousness of the issue.
150,000 tons of spare shredding capacity in the UK
The TRA advises that the top ten TRA members have around 150,000 tons of shredding capacity sitting idle and calls for a complete ban on the export of baled whole tyres.
When it boils down to it, the Environment Agency has been taking “duty of care” actions against recyclers and tyre companies, whilst at the same time Defra, the government’s own ministry, and its agency, the Environment Agency, and by implication, HMRC have clearly been negligent in their own Duty of Care. They have continued to allow ELT to be exported to undetermined end uses, sometimes in markets where their import either as whole tyres, or as waste tyres is contrary to the rules of the destination market.
As is so often the case, if the existing rules were enforced, both here and in the destination markets, the challenge of cheap ELT exports undermining domestic industries, here and abroad could be addressed. However, our government in the UK (and Germany) appears not to care so long as the waste is not piled up on our own doorstep. Our governments are guilty of an immoral lack of duty of care. They are complicit in waste crime by not acting as they should.
Henry Hodge, managing director at Black Ram Recycling has a solution; “If the government were to use the capacities set out in the Basel Convention, which it is a signatory to, then it could address the issue of abuse of ELT exports. By insisting that all tyre exports were shredded that would mean that the receiving operations would have to have the technology and the ability to handle that shredded material.” That single act would ensure that all operators in the UK would have to have permitted sites in order to make the process of recycling viable. It would boost British business and create jobs in the UK.