The figures are certainly respectable, and the sector plays a vital role in favour of a circular economy, but things could be even better with adequate policies.
A meeting held in the name of a new beginning: this is what AIRP members celebrated this year in Imola on October 14 and 15. A new beginning not only because the market seems to have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but also because of the decision to hold the annual meeting at the same time of the "Mission Restart" event organized by Autopromotec. After a conference entitled "Logistics, tires, circular economy: scenarios for sustainable transport", held in the afternoon on October 14 at the Imola F1 racetrack, the largest session of the meeting took place on October 15, in the morning, at the Molino Rosso hotel.
Stefano Carloni: working with producers to promote eco-design
President Stefano Carloni, in his introductory speech, pointed out that in 2021 production volumes of retreads in Italy seem to have almost returned to 2019 levels, and that in reality this figure can be read in two ways: if we compare it to the vertical drop that occurred in 2020, this is certainly a positive result, but in the face of recent price hikes on new tires, it may also appear somewhat disappointing. In any case, continued Carloni, the association welcomes the new "simplification decree", in force since last summer, which raised from 20 to 30% the mandatory minimum threshold of retreaded tires for public fleets and public service companies, as well as eliminating the cancellation of the tender procedure for the retreaded portion in the event of non-compliance. According to the president of AIRP, this measure could be further strengthened with a real sanctioning plan, but in the meantime, it marks "an important and necessary step to consolidate the role of retreads within the Green Public Procurement", especially since before the approval of the Simplification Decree, an study conducted by AIRP on the largest public fleets showed that only 30% of them complied with the retread standard.
On the other hand, the European Commission's initiative on sustainable products, which should lead to new directives on the durable design of goods, did not go as hoped; a public consultation had been launched, in which AIRP, Bipaver and other European associations had participated, suggesting that tires should also be subjected by law to eco-design obligations, given the significant role these can play in a circular economy. However, the Commission decided to exclude the entire transport sector, so there will be no such possibility. Nevertheless, according to Mr. Carloni, this does not mean that there are no alternative paths to follow in favour of a more eco-design-oriented tire industry: in fact, by cooperating with the manufacturers themselves, it should be possible to start studies on some of the most popular truck tires on the market and lay the foundations to determine some basic criteria for the retreadability of their casings.
Lastly, the Chairman concluded by expressing the hope that, at national level, the institutions expressed the will to lay down the conditions to tackle what is perhaps the biggest obstacle for the retreading market, i.e., the crisis of the transport and logistics industry, increasingly burdened by factors such as foreign competition, almost non-existent margins and unsustainable working conditions.
On. Benamati: retreads at the forefront of a transformed mobility
AIRP members appreciated the contribution made by the Hon. Gianluca Benamati, member of the Parliament’s Commission for Productive Activities, Trade and Tourism, and responsible for drafting the amendment that increases the quota of retreaded tires for public fleets from 20 to 30%, as well as a series of incentive plans for the automotive sector launched by the Government in the last legislature. Benamati began by highlighting the importance of the challenge posed by the environmental and energy transition: "a challenge that threatens to undermine that established reality of a productive industrial country, one that has enjoyed relative prosperity, to which we are accustomed". And in this scenario, the automotive sector takes on a paradigmatic role, also because in Italy, the automobile sector proved to be the backbone of the country’s reindustrialization in the last century as well as the development that followed. Today, when mobility as a whole is called to a radical transformation, the country must not lose this opportunity, and beyond the individual instruments to support the sector, it will be essential to align the entire supply chain to a new vision of mobility. The measure launched this year to support retreaded tires was necessary to further promote the culture of sustainable practices, so much so that, concluded Benamati, "the entire tire retreading sector can play a major role in the transformation phase of the productive system, which we must accompany as a country, as a government and as a parliament towards an increased environmental awareness, also with specific rules to support the widespread use of a product that convinced me about the need to support this proposed amendment because of the beneficial nature of the product."
MEC as a lever for environmental policies and business innovation
A second institutional intervention saw the participation, albeit on a virtual platform, of Dr. Lucia Citro, of the General Direction for the Circular Economy at the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The intervention focused on MEC (minimum environmental criteria) for procurement by public administrations, which in the context of Green Public Procurement play an important role as a lever and an instrument of environmental policy, as well as a stimulus to technological innovation, and will in fact also be provided in the National Strategy for the Circular Economy, something the Government is currently working on. Last June new MECs relating to vehicles were published, which have been updated to bring public procurement into line with increasingly stringent European objectives in terms of "eco-friendly vehicles". At this time instead the Ministry is coordinating the extension of a new tool, namely MEC for transport services, which will affect local public transport, school transport, and mobility sharing services. The initiative will be functional to reducing the carbon footprint of mobility by achieving several objectives: efficient public transport through shared and intermodal mobility, greater sustainability by public fleets, and the strengthening of practices involving material saving, recovery and regeneration. In this last field, retreading plays a vital role, so much so that AIRP is part of the stakeholders that will be consulted within the project.
Michelin: our hope is that more competitors will help the retreading business in its growth
Michelin Italy's sales manager, Marco Giuliani, also attended the Imola assembly to talk about circular economy and industrial innovations: two aspects that for Michelin are inseparable, and that are at the heart of production policies. First of all, Giuliani stressed that "circular economy and sustainability are currently on everyone's lips," but it is essential to separate words from deeds and look at what is actually being done. Combining circular economy and industrial innovation actually means following the dictates of eco-design: it means "thinking about how I will manufacture my product, how the product will behave while it is being used, how the product can be reused again, and ultimately how it will be recycled. All of this must be considered first. And doing so requires investments in industrial innovations in materials and processes. At Michelin, we call this the 4 R's strategy". First, Giuliani explained, reduction: reduce product weight, CO2 production, and the number of tires needed to travel a given distance. Second: renew; that is, energies used in production processes: "today our plants in Italy in Alessandria and Cuneo have a 100% certified supply of electricity from renewable sources. By 2030 we want to lower the Co2 impact threshold by 40%, until we reach 100% recyclable materials in tire components by 2050." Next, reuse: "Michelin casings for heavy-duty tires continue to be tested over a million miles. This the core of our business model, multi-life," which offers a high-value product, able to reduce total cost of use and environmental impact. Finally, recycling: "Michelin must and will fulfil its extended producer responsibility duties and is working to push harder for more tire recycling and reuse."
However, for Giuliani, industrial innovation alone is not sufficient. A truly circular economy can only be achieved through a collective process: "All tire manufacturers, institutions, and retreaders must act together and move toward this direction. This is why we would like to have more competition on retreadable casings: we want the retread market to grow, but for this to happen we need other players in the market, ready to invest in this business model."