BIR’s Dubai Conference hears how the Gulf is handling recycling
A transformation in the treatment of end-of-life tyres (ELTs) in the Gulf was reflected by presentations from leading regional recycling businesses at the BIR World Recycling Convention in Dubai.
The meeting of the Tyres and Rubber Committee on 18 October was kicked off by Chairman Max Craipeau of Greencore Resources in China who wondered if “there has ever been a better time” for tyre recycling. “Circularity is finally a reality for the tyre and rubber industry,” he said, referring to chemical recycling (pyrolysis). “We have always been the poor relative in the recycling industry – because for a long time there was no circularity, as with metals which can be recycled infinitely.
“Materials that weren’t necessarily sustainable from a chemical recycling point of view are becoming more and more sustainable thanks to growing demand.”
After a general introduction by Robert Weibold, founder and Managing Director of Robert Weibold GmbH in Austria, three presentations from representatives in the region underlined progress with ELTs. The first came from Abdullah Ahmed Alqurashi, Director of Business Development, Global Environmental Management Services (GEMS) in Saudi Arabia who drew a stark picture within the kingdom. According to a World Bank study in 2016, he said, 86m tyres had “leaked” because of waste management practices. “It’s a huge number when you think of the impacts on health, emissions and even the cost of landfill. Importantly, it’s a lost opportunity for recycling.” Every year, Saudis generate 572,000 tonnes of end-of-life tyres: 58% from personal vehicles, 15% from light commercial vehicles and 27% from heavy duty vehicles. Most tyres go to landfill or are being dumped. The total is expected to reach two million tonnes by 2050. “There’s a lack of regulations in SA to have a proper ecosystem for recycling tyre waste,” Alqurashi added. “GEMS’ role is improving the collection and supporting the market with centralised collection hubs and sorting stations. To have a fully fleshed solution, we are improving mechanical shredding and investing in pyrolysis plants across the kingdom.”
The UAE faces similar challenges, and the Gulf Rubber Company has five facilities for crumbing, granules, and other products. A pyrolysis project has been proposed but has yet to be established.
Plant manager Zaid Bdour showed “before and after” photos from Google Earth of a landfill site in the past decade highlighting the comprehensive removal of millions of tyres. He said recycling made business sense because the value of tyres in a landfill site was around US$ 70 per tonne, granules were worth US$ 325 per tonne and moulded products around US$ 870. Bdour said major challenges in the UAE were the volatility of used tyre prices because of lucrative exports to Pakistan and India and “fierce” competition with imported tyre products subsidised by the country of origin.
The third regional presentation was from Khaled Jamal Chaaroui, General Manager of EPSCO Global General Trading in Kuwait. He described how his company began recovering tyres from a landfill site in 2016 before shredding and transporting them to the Salmi yard. Seven million tyres were processed in the first six months, he said, and the site was cleared by the end of 2021. Fifty million tyres are now stored at Salmi. In 2018 construction started on a tyre recycling plant with operations getting underway in 2020 to produce crumbs, granules, powder, steel scrap and fibre waste. Chaaroui said educating the public and businesses about ELTs was a major challenge as was the availability of electricity for only 8-10 hours each day. A new sub-station was to be built, he said.
In an overview, Weibold told the meeting that annual arisings of ELTs in the Gulf totalled 880,000 tonnes with Saudi Arabia accounting for 65% followed by the UAE on 19%. The UAE is the largest exporter of ELTs at 59,000 – 40% of its arisings. The consultant said pyrolysis was a breakthrough answer to waste tyres, arguing the technology was reuse rather than recycling because the tyres were broken down into molecular components to be reused into new products.