How Italy has become one of the first countries in the world in the recycling of end-of-life tires, thanks to the start of revolutionary projects and the creation of new jobs.
The problem posed by the high number of used tires, whose final destiny is more and more often that of ending up in gigantic landfills or, worse still, being dispersed in the environment, buried or unloaded into the sea illegally, has now reached truly worrying proportions. If we take into consideration the production costs, the colossal quantities of crude oil used, around 26 litres for every single tire, and the equally huge amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year to manufacture new tires. The general picture of the situation becomes even clearer and more shocking.
The issue of used tires, therefore, must be treated on two fronts at the same time, on the one hand, the recovery and management of old tires, in order to reduce the environmental impact drastically, and on the other the search for new production methods aimed to reduce not only costs but above all the consumption of resources and polluting emissions into the atmosphere.
Since 2006, the European Union has vetoed the disposal of used tires, effectively obliging all those companies that, until then, had dealt with the matter in a non-serious way, if not even illegally. As a result, various consortia have started to emerge, in European countries and the world, to find a sustainable way to recycle old tires and recover the highest possible percentage of raw material from being reintroduced into the production cycle of new tires, or to be used in other fields, such as building for example.
In this context, Italy is proving to be particularly active. We are one of the first countries in the world to have several projects underway, some of which have already passed the test phases and are on the verge of reaching full operation.
The Ecopneus company
One of the rising stars in this sector is represented by Ecopneus, a non-profit company aimed at tracing, collecting, treating and recovering ELTs, an abbreviation used to indicate end-of-life tires.
The final result of this process is represented by recycled rubber granules, which are then used by Ecopneus for a wide range of applications and uses, the first of which is the construction of rubber flooring and artificial grass fields for stadiums and sports facilities, which in this way are able to reduce maintenance costs significantly.
But the rubber granulate is also used in construction and the public infrastructure sector, for the soundproofing of buildings, both public and private, as an insulator for floors and as an ingredient for the mix in high-performance and sound-absorbing asphalts, used for the paving of roads and highways.
In addition to having a positive impact from an environmental and pollution point of view, the supply chain involved in the production process of rubber granulate also has the additional advantage of generating new jobs. In fact, in the various companies that operate for the Ecopneus company, 800 employees work in the collection, storage and crushing of old tires.
EcoTyre and the “from rubber to rubber” project
If the granulate produced by the Ecopneus company finds different and varied applications, another Italian recycling consortium, which response to the EcoTyre name, managed to make a real revolution by creating innovative tires obtained by mixing the recycled rubber granulate with the components used for the production of conventional tires. In this way, they managed to significantly reduce the number of resources and energy normally required, as well as the ceiling for CO2 emissions caused by the manufacturing process.
Green tires, as they have been defined by EcoTyre, have been recently tested by fitting them together with conventional tires on 20 trucks, which have travelled over a million and a half kilometres with the maximum total load capacity.
The results of these tests have been nothing short of astounding, because they have shown how green tires obtained with recycled rubber granulate, with the same load, asphalt type and mileage travelled at maximum payload, can guarantee the same resistance and durability properties possessed by conventional tires. Indeed, in some cases, they have even proven superior.
The EcoTyre consortium, data in hand, then presented the new green tires at Autopromotec 2020, the 28th international biennial of automotive equipment and aftermarket held recently in the city of Bologna, obtaining a real boom in requests from companies that they operate in the conventional tire production sector.
The long-term virtues of the circular economy
The successes achieved by Italian projects, both that of the Ecopneus company and that of the EcoTyre consortium, have shown that the circular economy that is created feeds a motion that, although closed, is capable of replicating itself generating an increase in jobs thanks to the armature relating to companies specialized in the collection of ELTs. These, in turn, will also contribute to the environmental recovery of the areas currently used as landfills.
Regardless of the target of application of the recycled rubber granulate, which can be applied in a diversified way, according to the policy of the company Ecopneus, or aimed at the specific reintroduction in the tire production sector, as per the consortium’s objective, the direct consequence it will be a constant increase in the demand for this material, now considered to be like solid oil.