The Tyre Collective – winners of the James Dyson Awards 2020 – have designed a device to capture tyre particulate at source. According to the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ “Air Quality: Brake, Tyre and Road Surface Wear” report, tyre-wear accounts for nearly half of road transport particulate emissions. Furthermore, a reported half a million tonnes of tyre particles are produced annually in Europe alone, from vehicles accelerating, braking and cornering. As we move towards electric vehicles in the future, exhaust emissions will reduce but tyre particles will continue. The Tyre Collective estimate that tyre emissions may even increase, as electric vehicles become heavier due to the added battery weight. For both reasons, this year’s UK national James Dyson Award winners attempt to address this issue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.