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End of Waste now a reality



After years, and many efforts, a new decree issued by the Ministry of the Environment clears vulcanized rubber of its reputation as waste. A crucial turning point for Italy’s circular economy

Guido Gambassi

Following the signing of the so-called "End of Waste Decree" in April by the Minister for the Environment, Sergio Costa, on end-of-life tires (Ministerial Decree no. 78/2020 - Regulation governing the termination of the waste status of vulcanized rubber from end-of-life tires, pursuant to article 184-ter of Legislative Decree no. 152 dated April 3, 2006. ), and its appearance in the Official Gazette last July 21, the long and complex process of verification and analysis conducted by the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Health, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, ISPRA and the European Union, came to an end. After stating that "vulcanized rubber ceases to be qualified as waste", the new decree regulates the use of materials derived from end-of-life tires (ELTs), putting an end to the uncertainties and "case-by-case" assessments we have witnessed in past years, and should give new impetus to the entire ELTs recycling chain. According to the data released by the Ecopneus consortium, about 400,000 tons of ELTs generated each year in the aftermarket following routine tire replacements and vehicle demolition are covered by the decree, along with about 25 companies in Italy, with over 1,000 employees, producing rubber granules destined to road surfaces, sports facilities, construction and street furniture. Among the new operational developments introduced, we find the obligation for treatment plants to acquire a system dedicated to washing incoming ELTs in order to eliminate impurities, new sampling and analysis procedures on outgoing recycled material and a certification system for each production batch of the recycled material. A testing and tracking system will evenly guarantee, throughout the country, the same quality and safety of recycled rubber obtained from ELTs and the consequent applications of rubber granules and powder by an ever-increasing number of specialized companies throughout the country.

The End of Waste decree, therefore, was widely welcomed by the entire supply chain as an important environmental policy tool, which, by promoting correct ELT recycling procedures, will favour an ever-increasing use of granular vulcanized rubber and guarantee, through a system of analysis, monitoring and tracking, an even higher quality and safety in its applications. In addition, it promises to facilitate the fight against environmental offences with greater controls by the relevant authorities thanks to the precise definition of a management and treatment cycle of end of life goods.

Finally, the Decree will also stabilise the activities of many companies in the supply chain, using the same criteria and licencing methods throughout the country, enhancing the value of materials leaving processing plants and their applications once on the market. These applications are listed in Annex 2 of DM78/2020 as follows: "Granular vulcanised rubber (GVG) is a mixture that can be used in manufacturing processes or as such for the following specific purposes: a. production of articles and/or components of rubber articles, rubber conglomerates, rubber and rubber-plastic compounds on condition that these are intended as structural and finishing elements for the building industry, mechanical industry, external components on transport vehicles, railway and port buildings and infrastructures, road signage and road network, weights and counterweights; b. bottom layers in sports surfaces; c. clogging material for sports surfaces; d. bituminous composite materials such as modified bitumen, bituminous membranes, additives for rubber-based asphalts and sealants; e. bituminous conglomerates or cement conglomerates; f. foaming agents for steelworks".

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