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Ban tyre granules at your peril, says EuRIC

Recyclers have warned the European Commission of the consequences of banning granular infill produced from end-of-life tyres (ELT), arguing the results could be environmentally damaging.

The commission is considering restrictions on all microplastics, including tyre by-products, folowing a report on possible action prepared by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in advance of a decision. Concern over microplastics grew after a 2018 report from the Eunomia consultancy which estimated the total annual releases from unintentional sources into EU surface waters was 176 300 tonnes. Road tyres, at 94 000 tonnes, were the greatest contributors to this total.

Most microplastics found in the environment are ‘secondary microplastics’ formed through degradation of larger articles containing polymers such as tyres, typically in synthetic turf.

ECHA reports that although alternative synthetic turf sports pitch systems are available, up to 95% of synthetic turf sports pitches in the EU use styrene-butadiene rubber granules produced from recycled tyres as infill material.

Four options for micro-plastics are being considered:

  • Restriction on placing on the market of polymeric infill (no transitional periods)
  • Restriction on placing on the market of polymeric infill (six-year transitional period)
  • Derogation conditional on providing mandatory instructions for use and introducing a reporting obligation
  • Derogation conditional on implementation of risk management measures (three-year transitional period).

During a commission consultation, tyre recyclers and pitch manufacturer indicated that a full ban of tyres as infill material was not proportionate. That position has been reiterated by the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC) which represents the collective interests of the European mechanical ELT recycling industry.

It points out that in a year Europe generates 527 000 tonnes of ELTs which would be incinerated, stockpiled or even illegally landfilled if a ban on granular infill was adopted.

EuRIC insists that recycling tyres for artificial turfs should be regarded as a strategic objective of the EU’s Circular Economy Package because of ‘the substantial environmental benefits’ of this application. And it emphasises that preserving a circular economy for recycling tyres in this way should go hand-in-hand with reducing microplastics’ releases through standardised risk management measures.

‘State-of-the-art mechanical tyre recycling entirely supports the European Green Deal and the new Circular Economy Action Plan,’ says Poul Steen Rasmussen, president of EuRIC’s mechanical tyre recycling branch.

‘The processing of ELTs into rubber is not only the most resource-efficient option but also the most climate-efficient one because, for each tonne of ELT recycled as infill for artificial turf pitches, the climate is spared 700 kg of CO2 when compared with co-incineration.’ 

He adds: ‘We are sure that cutting down microplastics releases into environment and the circular economy goals can coexist and achieve the objective of minimising the environmental impact of microplastics, which is why we encourage the European Commission to introduce risk management measures to avoid unintended releases of microplastics into the environment, one of the options assessed by ECHA.’

EuRIC defines the sustainable recycling system of end-of-life-tyres as a ‘well-functioning and mature circular value chain which directly contributes to the recovery of thousands of tonnes of critical raw materials such as rubber, and also steel and textile fibres, saving substantial amounts of energy and water, and preventing greenhouse gas emissions. Together with millions of euros saved in imports of raw materials and generating thousands of jobs’.

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