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End-of-life tyres lead the way in ecology

Ecopneus conference

With the national integrated system for recycling scrap tyres just round the corner, the non-profit  company Ecopneus appeals to tyre specialists and prepares collection and treatment procedures with an eye on new recovery applications

by Francesco Lojola

“Nowadays, more than a quarter of end-of-life tyres escape checks, but at least half are already being used as fuel to save energy and the remainder are recycled as secondary raw material”.


While awaiting the decree that will govern the recovery of end-of-life tyres and establish when the system will start, the collection and treatment engines are being warmed up. The situation was clarified at the conference “End-of-life tyres, a new resource for road users” held during the Autopromotec trade fair in Bologna and organized by Ecopneus, the company set up by Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear Dunlop, Marangoni, Michelin and Pirelli to organize the collection, storage and final destination of scrap tyres, as laid down in article 228 of Leg. Dec. 152/2006, which requires manufacturers and importers operating in Italy to recycle a quantity in proportion to that placed on the market during the previous solar year.
It was conceived to help reduce damage to the environment and the economy by illegal practices that include black marketing and unauthorized dumps, which amount to an annual loss of over 360 million euros. Over 140 lost to public funds by non-payment of VAT and at least 150 lost to firms that legally treat scrap tyres,  and the remainder is the cost of reclaiming unauthorized sites.
It is estimated that operators annually produce about 380,000 tonnes of scrap tyres. Ecopneus general manger Giovanni Corbetta stated that “Nowadays, more than a quarter of end-of-life tyres escape checks, but at least half are already being used as fuel to save energy and the remainder are recycled as secondary raw material”. Rubber powder and granulate are used to make modified asphalts, soundproofing and anti-erosion barriers, road foundations, surfaces for sports installations, mats, insulating panels, in addition to traffic delimiters and waterproof membranes.

Funded by contributions from end-users
“In Italy there are over 30,000 waste generation points, hundreds of operators handling collection, 50 firms that process the material and manufacture derivatives, as well as various cement factories that burn scrap tyres to produce energy. We have studied a door-to-door collection system for tyre specialists who register on our website”. Funding for the system comes from the environmental contribution paid with the purchase of new tyres, in other words, the end-user.
The amount varies according to weight and this is clearly shown on the invoice and the receipt. “We pay the collectors” - Corbetta  added – “on the basis of what has been established in each region by a specific tender”. The recovery of scrap tyres, which the regulation states is an amount equal to that placed on the market during the previous year, implies that they can be traced and that a statement of the amount collected is sent to the Ministry for the Environment. Moreover, the company is a non-profit so a third of any cash in hand at the end of the year is allocated to the recovery of previous stocks and the rest goes towards running costs for the following year”. Ecopneus provide the tyre specialists who are part of the system with a maxi poster showing the amount of the environmental contribution and the regulations at the basis of the relationship with the collector. The operation also includes the recovery of tyres removed from vehicles due to be demolished, the cost of which is recovered by the contribution paid when the vehicle is registered. “Manufacturing companies” – explained Salvatore Di Carlo, responsible in Fiat for end-of-life vehicles – “recycle  vehicles in compliance with the EU directive on manufacturer responsibility, aimed at the re-use of at least 80% of the material-vehicle, or 85% of the weight used for energy saving”.

Recycled rubber for asphalt
On average, 3.5% of the weight of a car is accounted for by tyres on which manufacturers are focusing attention in view of the European target established for 2015 that raises the amount of material that must be recovered. Which is also of interest to outlet markets: “The most important of which in terms of the automotive industry is modified asphalt, where the use of powder from recycled rubber has already been widely experimented and is very widespread in countries like the United States. Last year we carried out a test in agreement with the Province of Turin, the Polytechnic, the association of operators in the road and bitumen sector, Siteb and Ecopneus, by laying 1.2 km of powder-modified asphalt on the bypass between Turin and Venaria”. The powder replaces the inert materials normally used in the bitumen compound: for every km with a thickness of 3 cm, 2,000 scrap tyres are used. “We discovered various advantages, such as greater yield than conventional asphalts”. “The experiments on asphalt rubber carried out abroad have confirmed it” – said Rubber Pavements Association representative Ines Antunes. Safety and comfort are greater because braking distances are much shorter on dry and wet surfaces, and the average noise level inside and outside the vehicle is reduced. Modified asphalt costs more, but it can be less thick, it requires less maintenance because the rubber absorbs thermal expansion and prevents cracking of the road surface”. The other advantages ascribed to it are a reduction in water spray and mist and the elimination of reflections which also improves visibility and night.

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