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Circular Economy: it’s about time



Following the introduction of a 20% quota of retreads in public service vehicle fleets, the 2002 Budget Law promoted the idea of circular economy long before it became the talk of the town. Now that European directives are pressing, the time has come, according to retreaders, to reintroduce the idea

Carlo Ferro

As talks around principles of circular economy keep growing among a few concrete projects and many clichès, the only certainty is the date (July 2020) for the transposition of new European directives by each the Member States. The tire sector, among others, is waiting to see the outcome of these measures, and retreaders in particular consider this revised legal provision as an historic opportunity to enhance the benefits of retreading, either through new regulations, which will probably be implemented, or possibly by strengthening existing ones. In reality, the rule that can be rightly considered as the “ante-litteram” application of the concept of circular economy has already been in force for eighteen years: the 2002 budget law (Law no. 448 dated 28 December 2001), in art. 52, paragraph 14, states that "with the purpose of protecting the environment and strengthening the retreading sector, national, regional, local authorities, utility companies, both public and private, when purchasing replacement tires for their fleets of passenger cars, commercial and industrial vehicles, shall reserve a quota of retreaded tires equal to at least 20 per cent of the total".

This was undoubtedly a significant step, offering the retreading sector the opportunity to build or consolidate a well-structured approach to the public transport fleet market, and for the latter to adopt a virtuous model that, starting with the purchase of premium tires, enables fleet managers to exploit the full potential of the tires thanks to retreading. This saves money and fuel (if the tire is a quality product), reduces harmful emissions (both in the production and life cycle), and finally, reduces the volume of ELTs produced.

There was no lack of controversy at the time, as the Emilia-Romagna Region appealed against this provision in February 2002, claiming that "such provision restricts the decision-making autonomy of the regions, local authorities as well as managers of public services and public and private utility companies, regulating a matter that does not fall within the competence of the State, being justified solely by a generic reference to environmental protection purposes".

In response to the plaintiff, the Constitutional Court’s ruling no. 378 dated 2003 specified that "if proper waste management involves, first and foremost, reducing final disposal through various forms of recovery, the ecological value of tire retreading is evident, since, according to certain estimates, it will reduce by about half the amount to be disposed as end-of-life tires, making it possible, at the same time, to make the most of a useful resource with consequent energy and economic savings. Furthermore, tire retreading is also considered by Community legislation, as evidenced by the Council Decisions 2001/507/EC and 2001/509/EC dated 26 June 2001 on the accession of the European Community to United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulations No 108 and 109 on the approval for the production of retreaded tires for motor vehicles and trailers".

"Under all these aspects - continues the text of the Constitutional Court - the ecological purpose of tire retreading, aimed at preventing and, at the same time, reducing environmental pollution resulting from storage, accumulation and disposal of used tires, is therefore clear, and due to this, …, must be considered an expression of the exclusive legislative power of the State, provided by Article 117, paragraph two, letter s) and of the Constitution. In order for this objective to become achievable in relation to a significant number of tires, the aforementioned Article 52(14) adopts a reasonable form of incentive in favour of retreading and the commercial distribution of these products, which takes the form of the obligation to purchase a set quota. The limited compression of regional autonomy and other entities resulting from such obligation is therefore justified - contrary to the opinion of the applicant Region - precisely by reference to the proposed requirements of environmental protection'. In the light of those reasons, the Court therefore declared that “claims against the constitutional legitimacy of Article 52(14) of Law No 448 dated 28 December 2001, is unfounded”.

And now, after several years, the Emilia-Romagna region is considered an exemplary case of the application of the above mentioned standard largely exceeding the minimum threshold of 20%. Speaking at an event sponsored by AIRP - Italian Tire Retreaders Association, Irene Priolo, Councillor for Mobility of the Municipality of Bologna, explained that the local public transport company in Bologna uses as much as 66% of its tires as retreads on approximately 1,000 buses in service, following the "golden rule" adopted also by many private companies which use new tires (obviously of premium quality) on the steering axles before retreading them and shifting them to the rear axles.

According to AIRP’s president, Stefano Carloni, Bologna represents a virtuous example, but there is always room for improvement: "In Nordic countries, truck and bus retreads have a market penetration rate of around 60%, in Italy it’s only 25%. Therefore, legal instruments can become the driving force behind the entire mobility sector achieving greater levels of environmental sustainability. We should also remember that the 20% quota is valid for all private companies that provide a public service, as well as municipal companies, and therefore reaches a significant number of operators. Considering the important challenges that the circular economy poses to all sectors - continues Carloni - we believe that the time is right to review the regulations and increase the minimum quota of retreads in the public transport sector: many virtuous examples testify to a direct relationship between the use of retreaded tires and better economic performance and ecological footprint. The time has come to take further steps," concludes AIRP’s President. It is no coincidence that the book "Circular economy at work. The case study of tire retreading" presented by the association in 2019 proposes to raise to 40% the minimum quantity of retreads set for all public and private companies providing public services.

As for the transposition of European directives, it is unlikely that these will give substance to this proposal, but the issue remains on the table and retreaders trust in a changed political outlook on environmental issues.


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