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End-of-life tires


The recent presentation of the 2013 Report on environmental sustainability held in Rome by the consortium highlights the economic, environmental and social benefits of ELT collection in our country 

Sabrina Negro


The words Green and Economy can coexist with success, despite accusations toward ecology of being an ideological weapon of anti-industrial activism, or, an idea used by the above-mentioned economy to raise prices and create eco chic trends for the rich.

Ecopneus is a practical example of this, and in its 2013 Report on environmental sustainability has gone beyond traditional reporting including an evaluation of its own activities such as ELT collection and recycling in connection to the environmental and social benefits this can bring to the whole country.

Extremely significant are the results produced by the Sustainable Development Foundation report, directed by Edo Ronchi, issued last June in Rome. Satisfaction for ecologists, seeing a -347 thousand tons Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and a saving of 3.2 billion kilowatt-hour and 1.3 million cubic metres of water – But pro-economy supporters were also happy in seeing a 110 million Euro saving in raw materials and a 74 million turnover being generated despite an 8% reduction in environmental contributions.

This is the ELT redemption; from a potential environmental, social and health problem, catalyst for organized environmental crime, to a resource capable of contributing to the employment and economic growth of the country, if properly managed.

The Ecopneus production chain, built around a network of companies (56 logistic firms busy in ELT collection and transport, 27 involved in recycling and 11 energy recovery plants) providing direct employment for 689 workers, has, during 2013, recycled 247 thousand tons of ELTs collected from over 33 thousand collection points throughout Italy. About 64% of it was used for energy production as a substitute of Pet-coke as well as in the cement industry, while the remaining 36% was transformed into sports surface products, street furniture, bituminous mix for modified asphalt and other objects.



Recycling is good (and now even better)


But not all forms of ELT recycling produce the same benefits. Green Economy indicators show how it produces greater results as recyclable material compared to the production of energy, both in terms of lower Greenhouse gas emissions and energy saving: for every ton of ELTs recycled as reusable rubber, 1.96tCO2eq are eliminated and 18 thousand kWh are saved compared to a 1.62 tCO2eq and 12 thousand kWh saving in the cement industry and a 0.13 tCO2eq / 6 thousand kWh saving in energy production.

Similarly, the greater contribution to water conservation, particularly critical in a country like Italy with over 40 billion m3 of water being consumed, and ranking among the top ten countries for per-capita consumption, comes from recycling ELTs as reusable material. Of the 1.3 million cubic metres of water saved by ELT recycling, 700 thousand must be ascribed at the reduced production of new rubber, steel and other tire components due to the recycling of 87 thousand tons of ELTs, translated into an 8 m3 per-capita saving out of each ton. Significantly more compared to the use in cement factories -4.8 m3 and -3.2 m3 saved from the production of energy.

That is why among Ecopneus future goals, in line with the priorities set by the EU, we find the intention to progressively increase the percentage of ELTs for the production of recycled materials. “In Italy cultural and bureaucratic barriers slow the process down, unlike what is already happening in large parts of Europe and other countries for the two main applications, road and sports surfaces. – says Giovanni Corbetta, General Manager of Ecopneus – A change of pace in this direction will allow the creation of a recycling society that is a pillar in the EU environmental policy”.

In other words, the challenge is to consolidate the recycled rubber market from ELTs and obtain the necessary quality approvals for recycled rubber along the whole Italian production chain. For this reason, in 2013 Ecopneus spent 70% of its 2.6 million Euro budget in developing projects aimed at improving transparency, customer information, education for younger generations, upgrading the production chain and developing different applications for the end product. But all this cannot overlook the vital role played by the institutional and regulatory framework, local and regional administrators, present in great numbers during the Rome conference, since they play a key role in issuing the necessary laws and permits.



A shared vision

From the participation of a great variety of companies, authorities and third parties who influence or are influenced by the ELT production chain, many campaigns and initiatives have been promoted by Ecopneus. Thanks to a partnership with UISP ( Italian Union Sport for Everyone ), for example, recycled rubber from ELTs has been used in the creation of a number of sport fields, in Medolla (MO), Prato and Quartieri Spagnoli in Naples; at the same time, Ecopneus, together with local authorities and institutions, is promoting the use of recycled rubber dust also for road surfaces, where a marked improvement in terms of motor vehicle grip, asphalt durability and noise reduction has already been appreciated.

But to receive the greatest attention by the media are the activities around Ecopneus’ commitment toward ELT collection from old stockpiles: 29 thousand tons ELTs were collected and sent for recycling in 2013 alone, real mountains of used tires that have been wounding the environment for years, jeopardizing people’s health in places like Poviglio in Emilia Romagna (1.509t), Aulla in Tuscany (1.204t), Sassofeltrio in Marche (1.979t) and Scisciano in Campania (8.483t).

It is no coincidence that the Report was issued after a year from the signing of the Agreement for the extraordinary collection of ELTs in Naples and Caserta, agreement that has allowed to date – thanks to the resources made available by a few Ecopneus partners – to remove from those two cities over 8.500 tons of abandoned ELTs, snatching them away from criminal organizations and showing at the same time that, with a sense of responsibility and professionalism and the help of local institutions, managing the difficult waste disposal crisis in Campania is possible.



Establishing a circular economy

ELTs’ second life is not just “good” or “ethical” for the environment. Beyond the ethical and environmental value, reusing products and/or their components represents an aspect of the competitiveness of a country and its economic development. The Green Italy 2012 report, issued by Symbola and Unioncamere shows how in Italy companies ( about a quarter of the total ) that have invested in green economy since 2009 are among the most innovative, produce more job opportunities and record greater exports. Boosting the economy of a country like Italy, where the imports of goods like electricity represent a cost comparable to that of national debt and raw material imports weigh on many industrial sectors, cannot happen through economic, social and enterprise policies that will not acknowledge the unbearable weight of a circular economy. A holistic view of economic development, able to transform waste products into a resource, allows reducing costs for importing raw materials maintaining, in the country a substantial part of the wealth produced. Ecopneus has calculated the costs savings from ELT recycling on raw materials imports in 2013: no less than 110 million Euro, 82% of which must be ascribed to ELTs recycling. In addition, there are 74 million related to the economic value generated by the environmental contributions collected by the consortium under the extended producer responsibility and intended to finance waste collection and promotion of recycling rubber. More than 87% of the economic value generated went to reward suppliers in the supply chain, a network of 89 companies spread all over the national territory, selected by Ecopneus through strict procedures based on the principles of transparency and certification of legality by the relevant national bodies and formal adherence to the principles of the Code of Ethics adopted by Ecopneus. Because above all Green Economy must promote legality and should be the driving force of an economy that is ethical, rigorous, transparent, accountable, which privileges the collective benefit and makes people think about the disastrous consequences of choices motivated by selfish or even criminal interests.




Beyond the simple calculation of greenhouse gas emission of a single product or company, in the quest for transparency and the attribution of the proper value to materials and activities, it is possible to identify another ‘footprint’. It is a Social Footprint, the first certification with the objective of telling the consumers the social history of the product they are purchasing or the social value of a company, organization or consortium. Ecopneus is one of the first companies or consortiums in Europe to agree to this voluntary certification system promoted by the Ministry of the Environment within the Italian program for the evaluation of the ecological footprint. Following a survey conducted in cooperation with Capellini Design & Consultant, out of the 89 active companies operating in the Ecopneus system, results indicate that the 4.526 employees - 689 employed full time in the various activities linked to ELT collection and recycling – are on average 38 years old, 89% of them are men and 50% have pursued undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. 22% of the companies in the production chain make ELTs management their core business. Located generally in the southern half of the country the employ on average 11 workers. The Social Footprint highlights how the real value of Ecopneus’ social identity must be found in the initiatives promoted by the many companies in the production chain to create a state of well-being for its employees and the community such as contrasting high school dropout rates, promoting environmental protection and sponsoring cultural and sports events. 

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