EOL Tires management
The number of abandoned or improperly discarded ELTs could be driven by illegal sales. Ecopneus took charge of part of the problem also in 2015, but sorely needs the help of both public institutions and tire associations
For the fifth consecutive year, Ecopneus went the extra mile, picking up quantities of ELTs well over the target set by law. Nevertheless, at the end 2015 two and a half million tires (ELTs) still needed to be collected and recycled. Pneurama spoke about it with director-general Giovanni Corbetta.
Could we start by explaining to our readers what Ecopneus exactly is and how it operates?
Ecopneus is a non-profit company, created by some of the country’s largest tire producers; we track down, collect and process ELTs that would normally end up in landfills. The system has been active since 2011 and is financed by environmental contributions paid by motorists upon purchasing imported new or used tires. The contribution aims exclusively at managing collection activities, with a “one-to-one” model: each tire placed on the market finances the correct disposal of the one it substitutes. Similarly to other organizations authorized to manage the disposal of ELTs, Ecopneus has collection targets based on the number of tires placed on the market by our shareholders. Once the target has been reached, the company is no longer obliged to collect more ELTs, also because the necessary funds will have been exhausted by then. In 2015, for example, we should have ceased our collection activities before November 25, having already reached our annual target of 225 thousand tons.
How could we describe, in figures, the Consortium’s activities?
We manage the collection and recycling of about 70% of ELTs generated in Italy (on average 250 thousand tons per year, something like 27 million car tires) and just last September we reached a million tons of collected and recycled ELTs. To give an idea, the weight is equal to that of eight cruise ships. In 2014, the last year with complete statistical data, we exceeded the set target by about 30 thousand tons (+13%). Since 2011, we have collected about 67 thousand tons more than the legal requirement.
Ecopneus is therefore not obliged to collect the share of ELTs not covered by environmental contribution proceeds. Why, then, are you so committed on this front and what have the results been?
This was an autonomous and environmentally responsible decision, consistent with the instructions received from our shareholders since our establishment. A commitment that resulted in the removal of "old stocks", large landfills created before the national collection system got underway; thanks to our own resources, 12 of these have been completely removed for a total of 60 thousand tons. Our commitment toward the “Land of fires” (also known as triangle of death) materialized in 201 interventions in 19 different municipalities, where 818 tons of ELTs were collected preventing their being burnt, a practice that has greatly contributed in making those territories particularly infamous.
Where does the “extra target” share come from and how is it calculated?
This originates mainly from the undeclared sale of new tires as well as tires taken from scrapped vehicles and placed back in the aftermarket following an incorrect treatment of the same tires. These practices not only circumvent VAT and environmental contribution, but create great environmental problems as well, since the large quantities of ELTs thus generated cannot be tracked and therefore they "do not legally exist"... In November 2015 we estimated about two and a half million tires that may not have been regularly collected by the end of the year.
And what is the Consortium doing to prevent all this?
We go well beyond our annual target with our own economic resources. For five consecutive years, including 2015, we decided to use our financial resources to pick up large quantities of tires extra target.
So these “extra target” ELTs represent a tax problem besides being an environmental issue?
That is true, and it’s not all: they also generate huge processing costs, which are entirely supported by those companies authorized to manage ELTs such as Ecopneus. Overstepping the targets set by the law is a way to prevent environmental problems and provide a full service to sector operators. But we have not always been able to continue collecting extra target ELTs until the end of year: in December 2015, for example, we were forced to suspend operations for a few days because our economic resources were completely exhausted.
What can Government and local public institutions do to help?
The existing regulations have produced a system that does works, yet it must be constantly improved in order to avoid that problems may recur. At the same time it is necessary that every actor in the supply chain plays its part ethically and consciously. Promoting and rewarding good, ethical behavior and contrasting undeclared sales with every instrument available is essential: but for this to happen local authorities, associations and unions, which should be interested in setting proper moral and ethical standards just like us, must be involved.
How are ELTs used?
Most of them (about 60%) are used to produce energy. But the percentage used to produce so called “secondary raw materials”, such as rubber granules and powder is constantly rising, and now account for about 40%. To date, 30% of recycled rubber produced throughout the Ecopneus production chain finds new life in sports flooring, 13% as playground flooring, 5% as acoustic insulation and 1%, a rather small but rising share, for draining and noise-absorbing road surfaces. Nowadays in Italy, 350 km of roads have been surfaced with this type of material; there were only 105 in 2011, a 225% increase. Porous tarmac is also more resistant to the formation of holes and cracks.
What forms of indirect sustainability result from recycling rubber?
The use of secondary raw materials derived from recycling ELTs greatly reduces the consumption of non-renewable resources, whether hydrocarbons, natural rubber, or fuels used to produce the energy required for industrial production. Our enterprise has reduced imports of raw materials by 105 million euro, not to mention a reduction of 344 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a drop of 1.8 million cubic meters in water consumption as well as a further reduction of 377 thousand tons of other mineral and fossil materials.
What about the economic advantages?
Our network is made up of 103 companies with 700 employees, and capable of generating an economic value of 67 million euro. Furthermore, we are also looking at ways to increase the practical applications of ELT-based secondary raw materials, with investments in research and innovation that since 2011 have amounted to 14 million Euros.
One last question: proper management of ELTs represents not just a good and ethical behavior in the recycling industry. Which other fronts are you active in?
For several years now, we have been promoting educational and awareness-raising projects in schools, technical and thematic workshops as well as seminars for Law Enforcement officers and national control bodies, focusing on the legal and regulatory aspects of proper ELTs management.