THE VIRTUOUS MANAGEMENT OF ELTs IN ITALY
A well structured and certified industrial supply chain that produces precious recycled rubber used in acoustic insulation, modified blacktop, football fields, playing fields and courts, urban furniture or energy, taking advantage of the excellent heat of combustion from ELTs and lower emissions compared to traditional fuels such as coal
Truck loads of End-of-Life Tires, equivalent to 150,000 car tires are the volumes currently being managed in Italy on a daily basis. To date, our country manages the recovery and transformation process of all the ELTs generated within the replacement market. Actually, the real number may even be higher, about 105% of the total, due to a number of tires being sold on the black market. Currently, the Italian management system, despite a slight delay compared to other European countries, represents a European best practice and has contributed in reducing the creation of large landfills, many of which illegal: tires can be considered a pretty “stable” element that poses no real danger to the environment apart from spoiling the landscape; but things do change dramatically when fires break out.
The management of ELTs in Italy is a concrete example of a green economy, a system capable of generating positive economic, environmental and social benefits. If we observe only the most representative company authorized to manage ELTs in Italy, Ecopneus (which manages about 70% of the total, about 250,000 tons of ELTs per year), the country saved about 130 million euro replacing imported raw materials with recycled rubber, and this in 2016 only. 80,000 tons of granules and rubber powder were placed on the market by the 23 companies involved in Ecopneus supply chain during 2016 (if we also consider collection, transport and storage activities, then the supply chain includes as many as 100 companies); to these we must add recycled fabric (over 10,000 tons in 2016) as well as steel components (27 thousand tons). The remaining portion is used in energy production thus substituting far more polluting fossil fuels; furthermore, rubber from ELTs is in also widely used in cement factories to replace the regular use of pet-coke derived from crude oil or replacing coal in power plants, by virtue of a greater heat from combustion value given an equal generation of harmful particles. For these reasons, energy production - though not the priority in the management of ELTs, according to European guidelines - remains an environmentally sustainable option.
On the other hand, the commitment to develop and consolidate alternative markets for recycled rubber remains very strong indeed. From latest-generation synthetic grass football fields to "silent" and long-lasting modified blacktops, from anti-vibration materials to acoustic insulation and urban furniture, from multipurpose surfaces to playgrounds for children, there are many industrial sectors in which rubber can make the difference. Further impetus to the circular economy of End-of-Life-Tires will come from the "End-of-Waste Decree", whose official publication is expected early next year, which will constitute a further and fundamental element in completing the recovery cycle of this precious resource.