Time for a leap forward
Stefano Carloni, AIRP President
Linglong, a large Chinese group that ranks as the fourteenth largest tire manufacturer in the world, will build its sixth factory in the city of Tongchuan, with expected investments of around 778 million euro. This may seem to be nothing more than an interesting piece of news. However, the project represents a turning point, as the new plant, which will be located in the Dongjiahe Circular Economy Industrial Park in the district of Yaozhou, will be largely dedicated to the production of retreads. Half a million car tires per year and an additional 60,000 for the aviation sector mark a significant shift towards a circular economy for the Chinese tire maker.
In Europe, meanwhile, the tire industry has been strongly affected by unprecedented price hikes in the supply of raw materials: just to mention a few significant examples, natural rubber has increased by 78% in one year, steel by 70% and copper by 115%. Producers and retreaders are increasing their price lists, delivery times have lengthened considerably, the supply chain is suffering, and we are beginning to talk about setting up crisis units to deal with strategic raw materials. This may seem the obvious consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic that has brought entire production chains to their knees worldwide. On a closer inspection, however, Covid is actually a secondary cause: what we are witnessing here is rather an industrial and economic model that is profoundly dependent on distant production systems, and not just geographically. A model that has reached the end of the road and must be re-thought. The direction to take has been clear for some time now, and it leads to a circular economy: waste prevention, recovery, repair, remanufacturing, re-use and, last but not least, recycling of raw materials. Circular economy is now the talk of the town just about everywhere. We hear of it in all strategic plans at both national and European level, even though, far too often this term takes on vague and abstract overtones. Yet a concrete opportunity to make a significant leap forward is already within our reach, following the upcoming European directive on eco-design. In the public consultation phase launched by the European Commission, AIRP is asking to include tires in the list of products for which a durable product design must be mandatory, thus promoting maximum re-usability (in our case: retreadability) of the final product. This would be just one of the many possible measures to reward those who safeguard the environment and natural resources, even if this would impose a paradigm shift, decisive for the future of the tire industry. In any case, the new Linglong factory will be completed by 2028: by that date, we hope that virtuous business practices will have recovered all the ground lost in recent decades, especially as the instruments to do so are already available.