According to a new report undertaken by Eunomia Research and Consulting for Friends of the Earth, up to 19,000 tonnes of microplastic pollution could be entering UK waterways every year from vehicle tyres. The report, titled Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution, listed tyres in its ‘top ten’ list of items of concern, commenting that interventions and innovation, as well as governmental, business and scientific collaboration, may be required over the coming five years to solve the issue.
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Tyres aren’t part of the food chain and they certainly don’t belong in our air and water. Even the powers that be realise this and the government says it will work to combat the problem. The how and with whom of this was outlined in the draft Clean Air Strategy 2018 document released by Environment Secretary Michael Gove on 22 May.
The University of Plymouth published government-funded research into what happens to particles released from vehicle tyres back in May. This comparatively recent report – as far as academic research is concerned – was launched with no-small media fanfare amid claims that tyres “could be a significant and previously largely unrecorded source of microplastics in the marine environment”. Be that as it may, the research also highlighted a number of significant knowledge gaps in this field of research.
Tyre Recovery Association members have called a new proposal to ban the use of tyre-derived rubber infill in sports surfaces as “incomprehensible and counter-intuitive”. The European Chemical Agency (ECHA) wants to ban the reuse of materials containing ‘intentionally added’ microplastics such as tyres from 2028. The TRA estimates that in the course of their service lives, car tyres alone shed some half a million tonnes of micronized rubber annually across the continent of Europe.
Studies show the tyre/road abrasion caused by vehicles in motion contributes to microplastic and fine dust pollution, making this an issue our industry will increasingly have to consider in future. ZF Test Systems believes its new unit for testing tyre abrasion will enable tyre manufacturers to optimise their development programmes and offer cleaner tyres.
In mid-November, the Green Party in the EU Parliament put out a statement on twitter saying: “tyres release more than 500,000 tonnes of microplastics into the environment?”. Stating that this means it is “time to reinvent the wheel”, the green party added: “Yesterday [13 November] we fought hard and we managed to convince the EU to label tyre abrasion in order to tackle plastic pollution”. With this in mind, Tyres & Accessories asked ETRMA what the pan-European tyre industry is adding to the discussion.
Particulate and plastic pollution from brakes, tyres and road wear are in the spotlight again. The Air Quality Expert Group (AQEG) released a new report today that highlights the impact of this pollution, and the UK Government reports that Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey and Transport Minister Michael Ellis are “leading a push” to tackle its impact. The aim is for the introduction of an international standard that covers tyre and brake wear.
Murfitts Industries has supplied a football pitch made from recycled tyres for Spanish champions FC Barcelona. The pitch material, called PRO-gran, is being used across four continents since its launch in 2017. The artificial grass is said to ‘last a lifetime’ and is compliant with strict chemical legislation (REACH).
Professor Richard Thompson OBE, who leads the International Marine Research Unit at the University of Plymouth, has questioned claims made by the Marine Conservation Society relating the role played by tyre wear in marine microplastic pollution.
The UK government identifies tyres as potentially responsible for up to ten per cent of the microplastics in the world’s oceans, and some research conducted abroad suggests this proportion could be much higher. A study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicates that 28.3 per cent of all primary microplastics may come from tyre/road wear (this figure rises to 46.2 per cent when the IUCN includes both natural and synthetic rubber in its scenario), and earlier this year a marine biologist from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research singled out tyres as a “major influence” upon the presence of microplastics in our oceans. Taking such research at face value, it is feasible that the ‘dieselgate’ scandal could be followed at some stage by ‘tyregate’. Yet the tyre industry asserts that tyre/road wear isn’t the environmental and health risk some claim it to be. Continental’s Nikolai Setzer recently discussed this side of the argument.
Chief executive officers of 11 leading tyre companies met at the offices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) last Friday and announced the latest results of ongoing international research projects studying the potential health and environmental impacts of tyres.
According to a study published by environmental network the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tiny plastic particles from tyres and other products such as synthetic clothing could contribute up to 31 per cent of the 9.5 million tonnes of plastic released into the ocean each year. The report suggests that tyre waste generated by abrasion during use accounts for 28.3 per cent of these primary microplastics. Tyre particles and other waste reach the ocean through road runoff, the path that 66 per cent of microplastics are said to take on their journey to the ocean.