Long road to national tyre recycling scheme has paid off

By Mark Gilbert – Auto Stewardship New Zealand Chair

It’s official – the way New Zealand deals with tyres at their end of life will change and change for the better.

It’s been a long road – some 10 years – since the Tyrewise project kicked off, but all that work, and patience, has come to fruition with the announcement on Tuesday, 21 June that it will start operating in 2023.

Tyrewise is the country’s first regulated product stewardship scheme for end-of-life tyres (ELTs), and indeed the first regulated stewardship scheme for any product in New Zealand. As a result, we have had to be especially thorough in our work to make sure the scheme is robust and has wide stakeholder buy-in.  This work has been done by a coalition of the willing, including 3R Group as project managers, the Tyrewise Working Group (made up of industry stakeholders), and the Ministry for the Environment.

Industry participation has always been key and in fact Tyrewise has been industry-led from the beginning. This is why creating a regulated scheme was so vital – industry wanted a level playing field with no free riders impacting the effectiveness of the scheme.

Having everyone around the table – from car and tyre importers to retailers, transporter and processors, and everyone in between – has been crucial.

I’m very proud of the fact industry has been so involved, despite the long timeframe the project has had. It’s a real testament to their commitment to taking responsibility for the tyres they import and sell at their end of life.

Currently, the system for recovering and recycling ELTs is fractured and, while most consumers are paying a recycling fee when they buy new tyres, the fees are ad-hoc. The fractured nature has created challenges. These range from difficulty for processors to get supply chain contracts in place which guarantee sufficient ELTs for their processes, to collectors struggling to finding viable outflows.

In short, the market is immature and not properly structured and connected however, that will change with Tyrewise.  The scheme will mean one national network linking stakeholders and unifying processes and systems.

Developing uses and end markets for the collected tyres is something we will also focus on. After all, stopping ELTs from going to landfill or being stockpiled is only half the battle – we need to develop viable end markets too.

A current use for ELTs is as fuel in the production of cement in New Zealand. This is a viable end use which also reduces reliance on coal. Another option which could make use of a large portion of ELTs is roading. However, this is still around seven years away due to existing national roading contracts being locked in.

New Zealanders are by nature highly innovative, so I’m confident the market will develop and Tyrewise will have mechanisms to encourage value creation.

Another, and closely related, piece of the puzzle is understanding what stock of ELTs we are dealing with. We know where some tyres go, but not all of them. This is why a national, regulated scheme is so important for properly managing tyres.

Now, we begin putting our plans into action, including a four-month trial in Hawke’s Bay. It will be exciting to see something the industry has backed for so long become a reality and help create a better future New Zealand.

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