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09/05/2017
THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY IS ALREADY A REALITY IN THE TIRE SUPPLY CHAIN

Retread, recycle and reuse

 

 

A conference planned during the 2017 edition of Autopromotec 2017, will host the highest representatives of the whole tire industry to analyze economic and ecological opportunities related to retreading, recycling and reusing old material: a virtuous system, yet to be valued as such

Guido Gambassi

Over the last decade, the world’s industrial economy has, following the rise and subsequent crisis of a business model based on globalization as well as the emergencies dictated by the recent global financial crisis and related readjustments, witnessed the rise of a common factor, transversal to all sectors and all types of businesses, the increasingly stringent need to make the most of the resources used. We could trivially put this down to a mere need to fix the income statement, where cost reductions are often viewed as the only options to increase or at least maintain the operating margins eroded over the years by a tightening up of competition and market fluctuations leaving a few scars in many sectors. Yet, the general idea of doing more with less  is far more complex and involves strategic factors, such as the reduced availability of raw materials, especially non-renewable ones, and the now unavoidable impact that environmental policies will have on various components, both before and after the actual production cycle.

It is clear, then, that one of the main challenges that the global industry is having to face in this century is in fact reconciling economic and environmental sustainability. With this in mind, the concept of a circular economy, which is an industrial production system devoted to re-using products and their individual components, as well as eliminating waste and large quantities of scrap material, stands out as necessary. The automotive industry has long considered the "remanufacturing" of its components an increasingly widespread and shared philosophy. The opportunities, for consumers and businesses alike, are such that this trend will likely keep on growing in the coming years. Among all automotive components, the tire must be considered the one that best fits the “remanufacturing” concept. Far in advance of all other components in the sector, also as far as specific regulations aimed at favoring the reuse of vehicle parts, tires have been, for nearly a century now, the perfect solution and a viable alternative from the point of view of sustainability in both economic and environmental terms. Not only that: the tire industry as a whole represents a tangible example of circular economy, since a premium tire “lives” it first life on the road, then is re-grooved, subsequently retreaded, even several times, and finally, as an ELT, it is still used as a source of secondary raw materials or in energy production, thus closing a life cycle as a tire moving on to a second life cycle with numerous other important applications. A highly strategic business model in the context of today's and tomorrow’s production systems; furthermore, in view of the recent growth in oil prices as well as other raw materials, it is easy to foresee an even greater role to be played by the tire industry as far as recycling and re-using practices.

In order to analyze the strategic opportunities for the entire supply chain, and promote a healthy  awareness, from both the public and the institutions, to the need for adequate promotion of good and virtuous practices within the sector, AIRP – the Italian Tyre Retreaders Association, in partnership with Ecopneus, has organized an important forum during the 2017 edition of Autopromotec (Bologna, 24-28 May), with a conference entitled “The Circular Economy: the virtuous case of the tire sector". The event, scheduled on Friday, May 26, will be attended by important representatives of Italian and European institutions (highly anticipated is a talk by Hon. Ermete Realacci, Chairman of the VII Environmental Standing Committee, of the Parliament’s Chamber of Land and Public Works, as well as the participation of Hon. Simona Bonafè - MEP and Member of the European Parliament Committee on the Environment), and will see the participation of the industry as a whole, with AIRP’s President Stefano Carloni, the General Manager of Ecopneus Giovanni Corbetta, the participation of the retail segment through Federpneus, not to mention the presence of representatives of the industry’s largest manufacturers such as Alessandro De Martino, CEO of Continental Italia, and Lorenzo Rosso, President and CEO of Michelin Italia (other manufacturers are waiting to be confirmed). A contribution of a more scientific nature will be provided by Lorenzo Mannella, expert in communication, diffusion and transfer of technology that deals with the circular economy at the University of Bologna, while Laura La Posta, journalist with the Sole 24 Ore,  will moderate the meeting.

The event, besides its didactic purpose, intends to focus on the potential threats, at various points of the supply chain, to this virtuous cycle, which, according to AIRP, deserves instead to be encouraged and re-launched. On a domestic level, the areas on which policy makers should intervene are many indeed. Upstream of the production cycle, guaranteeing fair competition in both tire production and distribution, constitutes a support for high-quality products, the only ones that, due to their higher quality, are more suitable to be retreaded, thus becoming part of the “long” circular economy. As for retreading, this is a fundamental practice aimed at saving precious raw materials, fuel, energy, and greatly reduce the volume of ELTs; despite its strategic role, this activity is seriously threatened by the “onslaught” of low cost non-retreadable products. It is hoped, therefore, that the institutions may provide incentives to the sector seeing the environmental benefits of higher quality products. Finally, the current ELT recovery system is also facing a number of critical issues that must be addressed to ensure a more rational organization of activities throughout the country.

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