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Circular Economy, where are we?



A conference organized by AIRP with the participation of the institutions, the industry and environmental experts on possible solutions for a smooth transition to a circular economy. As far as tire retreading is concerned, eco-design and environmental taxation would be the perfect tools for a green shift in mobility.

Carlo Ferro

The creation of appropriate and effective tools designed to speed up the transition towards a circular economic model, adopting the most recent EU directives and measures aimed at promoting virtuous and eco-friendly practices, such as tire retreading. With this message Stefano Carloni, president of Airp (Italian Tire Retreaders Association), opened the conference “Non chiamatelo rifiuto! Sfide e prospettive per l’economia circolare” (Stop calling it waste! Challenges and prospects for the circular economy), which took place on September 25 in Rome at the MoMec Montecitorio Meeting Centre.


The proposals: eco-design and eco-tax

The deadline is now near: by July 2020, Italy must have implemented all the indications of the so-called circular economy package, i.e. the four European directives approved in May 2018 by the European Council, along with all other member states. President Carloni stressed that the circular economy has long been at the heart of the European agenda, so much so that the newly elected President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, in her opening speech at the plenary session of the European Parliament on July 16, said that Europe must become a world leader in circular economy and clean technologies. Faced with the imminent deadline, tire retreaders hope that "the institutions will come to the rescue of the sector with a new industrial model".

In his speech Carloni highlighted how retreaders have always represented a perfect example of circular economy. Premium tires in fact are designed to be retreaded and reused a number of times, thanks to supporting structures that stay intact until the end of their life cycle. “Tire retreading - underlined Carloni - is fundamental to save raw materials, oil and energy compared to the production of new tires, besides reducing the production and disposal of ELTs (End-of-Life Tires). For these reasons, it is a highly strategic model in today’s and tomorrow’s production scenario.

How, then, could new productive policies favour a circular economy and the retreading industry? A first solution, according to AIRP, might come from the adoption of environmental taxes, for example introducing a mechanism of rewarding eco-friendly products and introducing tax credits for transport companies that use retreaded tires.

However, one underlying theme that is not receiving the due attention it deserves, stressed Carloni, is eco-design. If a certification system for durable product was to come into force in the tire sector, there would be a significant shift in competitive factors, which would no longer have to rely mainly on unrealistically low prices, but on the quality and durability of the product. For the retreading sector, but the same goes for all other production sectors, it is now time to encourage market competition that is linked not only to price but also to issues such as environmental sustainability. "Just as European legislation expresses precise indications to prohibit so-called programmed obsolescence, with the same logic it would be appropriate to put a damper on all products designed to offer extremely low prices and frequent replacements”,said Carloni, "encouraging this type of transition is what is expected from the institutions called upon to lead the continent towards a circular economy”.


A concerted effort for a circular economy

As important institutional representatives and experts in environmental policies took the stage, the concept of a circular economy came under the spotlights. The conference, moderated by a journalist, Maria Leitner, kicked off with an introductory speech by the Undersecretary for European Affairs, Laura Agea. "Never before have challenges on circular economy issues been clearer and present in debates among European institutions. In my role I will continue to build bridges and links between Europe and Italy to ensure the best results in favour of a resource whose value is not quantifiable: the environment”.

Senator Patty L'Abbate (group leader of the 5SM in the 13th Environment Commission) pointed out that the "Green New Deal" is part of the government’s programme. "Measures need to be taken to reward socially acceptable business practices as well as promote technological development and innovative research in order to make this ecological transition effective and direct the entire production system towards a circular economy”.

Immediately after, Andrea Ferrazzi (PD group leader in 13th Environment Commission) took the stage and spoke about the importance of this challenge, pointing out that the government has placed the circular economy at the centre of its programme. "We are willing to adopt the new package of European directives on waste and circular economy. We need to take note of this new directive, which defines the strict criteria needed to ensure that what was once considered waste can become a resource”.

Franco D'Amore (vice-president and director of the Energy Area I-Com - Institute for Competitiveness), and author of the book "Circular economy at work: the case study of retreaded tires" produced in collaboration with AIRP, highlighted the potential economic as well as environmental benefits of public investments to support the purchase of retreaded tires: the sector in fact lends itself perfectly to act as a multiplier of investment in terms of induced direct and indirect benefits. D'Amore stressed how the tire retreading sector represents an extremely interesting niche market, because it is the classic example of how a product can be re-thought in an intelligent and innovative fashion. "The sector of retreaded tires in Italy - he said – possesses an innovative know-how that must be increasingly encouraged".

According to Mr Tommaso Foti (FdI member in the 8th Environment Commission), it is vital "to try to enforce current rules and improve upon them integrating them in a productive system. It is necessary that Europe, besides issuing directives, ensures that all Member States comply with those directives". Clearly, here the reference is to the mandatory use of at least 20% of retreaded tires by all local public transport companies, an obligation that is often ignored due to a lack of controls and almost complete absence of sanctions.

Paolo Passerini of the Ministry of Economic Development illustrated the activity carried out in 2018 together with Airp as far as the adoption of anti-dumping duties on imports of new and retreaded buses and trucks tires from China. "We need to move - he stressed - within a regulatory framework designed to combat unfair competition in the market. Duties are an important measure to protect the European Union's trade history". In the specific case of tires, moreover, these duties have allowed to remove an important obstacle to the implementation of a circular economy system, eliminating the unfair advantage previously enjoyed by non-retreadable products.

In his speech, Marco Do (Italian Director of Communication for Michelin) remarked that "the industrial system must do its part, but also law making bodies must introduce rules to allow the industrial system to be virtuous, and work in spreading responsible and acceptable consumption habits”.

Professor Silvia Serranti (Professor of Raw Materials Engineering at the Sapienza University of Rome) then went on to describe the current situation on mining for raw materials on a global level. "A circular economy – she emphasized - is also linked to the possibility of finding valid alternatives to dwindling stocks of raw materials. And here is where recycling is particularly important because it allows to reduce the need to extract virgin raw materials". Hence, the term "urban-mining", or the extraction of raw materials from products that have reached the end of their useful life”.

It is however necessary to highlight that as of today a number of virtuous examples can be found in public administrations, both in terms of promoting a circular economy and mobility policies that meet the need to reduce the environmental impact. In this regard, Irene Priolo (Councillor for Mobility Policies for the Municipality of Bologna) stressed that the opportunity to adopt a winning model is real. "Bologna, Milan, Turin and other cities, for example, are making great strides in combating a difficult battle against nitrogen oxides (NOx). The efforts made in the field of mobility must, however, be complemented by all the segments of an economic model that can help create a new industrial plan for this country”.

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