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Publications archive - Waste and recycling


Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

A National Approach to Waste Tyres

Commonwealth Department of Environment, 2001

7 Material Flows in the Tyre and Rubber Industries

The following sections describe sources and fate of tyres and other rubber products, both in Australia and internationally. There is considerable uncertainty in the data for Australia due to a range of factors which are discussed below. Consequently, the information should be used with caution.

7.1 Sources and quality of data

In respect of tyres, there are no reliable and comprehensive statistics available in Australia on the quantity of tyres produced, sold and retreaded, or the fate of tyres including the numbers that go to various alternative uses. A number of studies by government agencies and consultants ranging back to the early 1970's have compiled figures as part of waste management investigations and policy development. These, however, have often been restricted in their coverage (often to a single State) and appear to have faced the same difficulties as the current study. Industry representatives in certain sectors hold statistics and estimates on their activities, but are reluctant to provide detailed data in view of the competitive nature of the business and uncertainty about the use of the data by government or other industry players. In regard to other entities in the tyre industry there are many small operators that do not keep any records, and the resources needed to contact a representative sample are prohibitive. None of the tyre industry associations collect or maintain industry-wide statistics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects import and export statistics but the classification of tyre and other rubber products and the use of financial values rather than physical values makes the ABS information difficult to reconcile with other data. Compounding the data collection problems for individual States and Territories are the significant interstate transfers of waste tyres. Finally, and of great concern for the current study, there is a high level of inappropriate activity. In NSW and Queensland there are suggestions that illegal practices may account for as much as 25% of all waste tyres but, by definition, there is no way to obtain reliable estimates and there is even debate about what should be classified as illegal or inappropriate disposal.

The comments for tyres are even more relevant to other rubber products. Information has only been found at the aggregate level reflecting the relatively small size of the remaining segments of the rubber industry in comparison with the tyre industry. With the exception of conveyor belts there does not appear to be significant waste or environmental issues in the other rubber product sectors.

The consequence is that material flows in regard to tyres and other rubber products can only be estimated from a collection of fragmented data points, which individually have low levels of confidence. There is considerable difficulty in reconciling the various sources of information and presenting a comprehensive picture of new, used, recycled and reprocessed tyres and other rubber products in Australia.

7.2 Units of measure and classification

Various units of measure and classification have been used or are used by different segments of the rubber market and for different products. The discussion on classifications is dominated by a focus on tyres, which are the largest and most obvious source of rubber waste.

Depending on the perspective taken, tyres can be measured by number, mass or volume. Tyres can also be classified by application and market segment such as passenger tyres or off-the-road (OTR) tyres which are tyres used on earth moving and mining equipment. A unit of measure that has been introduced is the equivalent passenger unit (EPU) which relates tyres of various sizes to an equivalent passenger tyre as shown in Table 7.1.

Table 7.1 Basis of equivalent passenger unit (EPU) measure26

Type of tyre EPU Assumed mass (kg)
Passenger 1 9.5 (basis)
Light truck 2 19
Truck and bus 5 47.5
Tractor and grader 10 950

Though there is no absolute requirement to establish rigid definitions for units of measure for tyres, the current disparity can lead to difficulties in collecting and interpreting data. It is noted that considerable errors may arise in using the EPU basis as defined above, particularly when converting back to the number of tyres and volumes. Observed inconsistencies in the application of EPU include:

7.3 Are more accurate data required?

There are considerable shortfalls in available data on all aspects of tyre production, recycling and waste generation. However our view is that the general ‘state of play’ is known with sufficient accuracy for the purposes of this study. Uncertainties about the data should not therefore be a barrier to further assessment and developments of national, local or industry approaches.

Nevertheless, this should not be taken to imply that efforts to improve data availability, quality, classification and units of measure would not be of considerable value for planning, policy development and implementation.

7.4 Summary of world rubber market

Rubber use is dominated by the tyre industry which consumes over 50% of the mass of all rubber produced. A significant proportion of the non-tyre rubber production is also associated with the automotive industry so that about 80% of all rubber is consumed in this sector. There is a vast range of non-tyre rubber products ranging from medical products through to earthquake mounts for high rise buildings and the list includes; belting, hose, moulded and extruded products, seals, roll coverings, mats, carpet underlay, footwear, clothing and foamed products such as mattresses.

On a global basis between 700 million and 1 billion new tyres are manufactured each year and this figure is rising with increased population, vehicle ownership and usage.

Australia produces approximately 6 million tyres and overall consumes approximately 18 million tyres. It can be seen that on a world scale Australia's tyre consumption is small though a rough estimate suggests that waste tyre production per person is relatively high by world standards.

Worldwide tyre production is dominated by a small number of multinational companies with the top 6 companies producing more than 80% of the tyres. There are many smaller companies that produce tyres and other rubber products and many of the major tyre producing companies are also significant players in the non-tyre rubber industry. In addition to rubber there is significant industry associated with supplying the fabrics, steel and various additives that make up finished rubber products. The rubber industry is one of the largest secondary industries in Australia with an annual output worth about $1.5 billion and employing about 12,000 people.

Rubber, as a raw material, can be divided into two main types: natural rubber and synthetic rubber. The ratio of consumption in Australia is about 60:40. Annual synthetic rubber production in the world is approximately 10 million tonnes and total natural rubber production is 7 million tonnes. Australian total rubber consumption is estimated to be of the order of 120,000 tonnes per annum. Australia imports all its natural rubber requirements but manufactures about 70% of synthetic rubber used locally. A breakdown of the applications for rubber is given in Table 7.2.

Table 7.2 Breakdown of natural and synthetic rubber usage

Application Natural rubber Synthetic rubber
Tyres (including tubes etc) 50% 50%
Other automotive 30% 30%
Other 20% 20%

7.5 Sources of waste in the rubber industry

The perceived waste ‘problem’ in the rubber industry is dominated by waste tyres. Conveyor belts are the only other rubber product that appear to raise significant waste management issues though the quantities of waste are much smaller than for tyres. No specific information or discussion of issues have been found on the effects of non-tyre waste rubber other than for conveyor belts. A significant proportion of rubber products is used in the automotive industry but mainly not in consumable components, and consequently it is likely that much of the waste ends up in scrapped cars. In Australia the non-metallic components of cars are disposed to landfills. Other rubber products are likely to be disposed to landfills via domestic or commercial waste management processes and account for less than 1% of the total waste mass.

7.6 Summary and trends in international waste tyre use

Waste tyre management is a significant issue in most developed countries and major waste tyre management projects have been put in place. Information on waste tyres as well as trends in uses in various countries is shown in the following figures and tables.

Figure 7.1 shows statistics for the number of waste tyres utilised in the US. The significant increase in waste tyres between 1990 and 1996 is interpreted as referring to the number that are used beneficially, not the total number of waste tyres generated. The trend shows a steady increase in the use of waste tyres for fuel and also an expansion of recycling and other uses. It is interesting to note that a paper on rubber modified asphalt27 published in 1992 predicted much higher rates of use in roads and rubber products than appears to have been realised.

Table 7.3 shows recent figures for the US. It can be seen that the percentage of waste tyres utilised is approaching the rate of generation. The author of the data predicts that within a few years the US will be utilising all of the waste tyres as well as drawing down on the huge waste tyre stockpiles. The percentage of tyres going to energy is 75% with the remaining tyres going to a variety of whole tyre and crumbed tyre uses.

Figure 7.2 shows the trends in the use of waste tyres in the UK. Here it is noted that the quantity of tyres going to material reuse (such as crumbing) has increased significantly between 1996 and 1999. Contrary to the US trend, energy recovery has declined and the disposal of tyres (both landfill and illegal) has increased.

Table 7.4 contains data for a number of countries, and indicates that energy recovery and landfill disposal account for the greatest destinations for waste tyres in most countries. Recycling is generally only 10% to 20% of the total28.

Trends in waste tyre generation and use in the US

Figure 7.1 Trends in waste tyre generation and use in the US

Trends in waste tyre generation and use in the UK

Figure 7.2 Trends in waste tyre generation and use in the UK29

Table 7.3 Estimated utilisation of waste tyres in the US market30 (millions of tyres31)

Energy Recovery 1997 1998
Cement kilns 53 58
Pulp and paper 37 39
Utility boilers 32 36
Dedicated tyres to energy 15 16
Industrial boilers 23 25
Resource recovery facilities 8 10
Lime kilns 2 3
Copper smelters 1 1
Iron cupola foundries 1 4
Sub Total 172 192

Size reduced 15 18
C/S/P products 8 8
Civil engineering 14 18
Agricultural 2.5 2.5
Export 15 15
Miscellaneous uses 1.5 1.5
Sub Total 56 63
Total 228 255
Annual Generation 270 275
Waste as a % of market 84% 93%
Products as a % of waste 25% 25%
Energy as a % of waste 75% 75%

Table 7.4Fate of waste tyres in selected countries32

Retreading 20 17.5 22 31 20 60 5 -
Recycled 16 11.5 12 16 10 12 12.5 28
Energy 15 46.5 23 27 30 28 64 72
Landfill 45 4 40 23 5 0 5 -
Export 4 16 2 2.5 25 NA 7 -

Table 7.5 Fate of waste tyres in various countries

US Japan Germany UK Australia
Landfill/stockpile (%) 74 11 30 53 66
Energy recovery 7 35 37 20 0
Retreading 12 12 19 19 27
Crumbed 2 22 2 0 0
Export 4 22 2 0 0
Other uses 1 3 1 2 7
Estimated annual volume (millions of tyres) 300 70 40 30 10
Source: ANZECC Taskforce report on "Water Lubricating Oil, Used Motor Vehicle Tyres, Recycling and Re-Use" 1990. Practices and volumes may have since changed33

As has been found with Australia, the data on waste tyres in other countries contain many inconsistencies and it is difficult to draw conclusions on what is actually occurring and what are the drivers for change. Based on available information, it appears that in both Europe and the US uses for waste tyre derived products have expanded rapidly following the recognition of the problems associated with waste tyres and the introduction of a co ordinated approach to dealing with the problems. While use of crumb rubber has expanded, the greatest growth appears to have occurred in energy recovery. It is of interest to note that most countries do not explicitly differentiate between the ‘value’ derived from energy recovery, material reuse (such as crumbing) and retreading as appropriate solutions to dealing with waste tyres.

In respect of other rubber products there is little published information from other countries and the programs focused on tyre waste do not appear to extend to other rubber products.

India provides a contrast to the state of play in the US and Europe. India has a large tyre market both for internal use (in the original equipment and replacement markets) and for export. In respect of waste tyre utilisation, all tyres are recovered and India is the only country that has appreciable rubber reclaiming operations. The structure and performance of the tyre industry in India is based on low labour costs and a high demand for rubber, well above local supply, to support both local and export industries.

7.7 Flows of tyres and other rubber products in Australia

The total consumption of rubber in Australia is estimated to be in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes per year. As discussed above, tyres make up 50% of the total consumption of rubber, and account for the greater part of the waste rubber ‘problem’.

The only other rubber-based products with an identified waste management issue are conveyor belts. Despite the obvious differences in physical characteristics and applications, conveyor belts are in many ways similar in structure and composition to tyres, consisting of a rubber matrix surrounding fabric and/or steel reinforcing. The use of conveyor belts is almost exclusively at mines or in industrial processes. Discussions with industry representatives suggest that waste conveyor belts are either used in applications such as, for example, protecting truck bodies or strips in cattle yards, or are disposed on site. The management of waste conveyor belts is reported to be a problem for some companies and sites but the overall quantity is considerably less than the quantity of tyres. There appear to be opportunities to incorporate conveyor belts in waste tyre management programs. However, as with OTR tyres, the opportunities are limited in view of engineering or economic considerations due to the physical nature of the product and the typically remote source of the waste.

Estimates of the flow of tyres for each of the major tyre segments are shown in Figure 7.3 to Figure 7.6.

For each of the tyre flow diagrams the inputs to the tyre market in Australia are shown on the left, including imported new (and used) tyres, locally manufactured tyres and tyres on locally produced or imported vehicles. The centre of the diagram shows the flows within Australia. In practice, the flows are much more complex than shown here so the diagram is only an approximation. The right hand side of the diagram shows the tyres that are exported from Australia, including those on locally produced vehicles. The bottom of the diagram shows the final fate of waste tyres. Note that all values in the figures are number of tyres not EPU. The exception is the diagram for OTR, which is expressed in tonnes.

Estimates for the number of tyres used in agriculture are not included due to the lack of reliable statistics. The situation with on-farm tyres may, in many respects, mirror that of mine sites in that farmers are likely to find the costs associated with collection and return of tyres excessive, and the waste tyres may be put to use around the farm. While the number of tyres in use in agriculture at any time is expected to be substantial, the rate at which these become waste will be relatively low, in view of the lower overall usage rates and less punishing conditions under which they operate compared with mines. In view of the diverse nature of the problem due to the large number of agricultural properties, effective policy initiatives will be difficult to design. This report has largely ignored tyres used in agricultural.

In addition, tyres for motorcycles and bicycles and other minor types, such as solid tyres and tyres for wheelbarrows and similar, have not been covered but this has little significance on the analysis as the annual waste quantity of these tyres is expected to be relatively low.

Estimated number of passenger tyres in Australia

Figure 7.3 Estimated number of passenger tyres in Australia - year 2000 (numbers of tyres)

Estimated number of light commercial tyres

Figure 7.4 Estimated number of light commercial tyres - year 2000 (numbers of tyres)

Estimated number of truck and bus tyres

Figure 7.5 Estimated number of truck and bus tyres - year 2000 (numbers of tyres)

Estimated mass of off-the-road (OTR) and agricultural tyres

Figure 7.6 Estimated mass of off-the-road (OTR) and agricultural tyres - year 2000 (tonnes)

7.8 Australian waste tyre quantities and fate

The estimated number of waste tyres generated annually (excluding those retreaded) in Australia is 18 million EPU. The breakdowns by use and by fate of tyres are shown in Figure 7.7 and Figure 7.8 respectively.

Estimated breakdown of the number of waste tyres

Figure 7.7 Estimated breakdown of the number of waste tyres

Estimated breakdown of the fate of waste tyres

Figure 7.8 Estimated breakdown of the fate of waste tyres

In the above figures inappropriate disposal includes illegal dumping of tyres and tyre disposal or storage which, while not technically illegal, is not considered appropriate due to the expected environmental or related impacts and/or loss of resource. For the purposes of this report all interstate transfers are assumed to go to landfill. In addition to these transfers there are interstate transfers of tyre casings, which are not shown in the previous figures.

7.9 State and Territory waste tyre quantities and fate

Estimates for the breakdown of the types of waste tyres generated and of the fate of the tyres for each State and Territory are presented in Table 7.6. The estimates are based on a wide range of sources and the uncertainty in the figures is considered to be at least 20%. The values in the table are presented graphically in Figure 7.9.

Table 7.6 Quantity of tyres generated by state and estimated fate for the year 2000

Number of waste tyres (millions of EPU)

Passenger P 3.27 2.41 1.79 0.95 0.76 0.24 0.10 0.16
Light commercial LC 1.48 1.08 0.81 0.43 0.34 0.11 0.04 0.07
Truck and bus TB 0.94 0.69 0.52 0.22 0.22 0.07 0.03 0.05
OTR and other OTR&O 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.03 0.01 0.0
Total 18.12 6.15 4.52 3.37 1.73 1.43 0.45 0.18 0.30


Fate of waste tyres - excluding retreads

Energy recovery ER - 75% 20% - - - - -
Inappropriate disposalb ID 25% - 15% 15% - - - -
Landfill L 68% 13% 55% 80% 91% 100% 100% 33%
Other uses OU 2% 5% 5% 3% 2% - - -
Recycled R 5% 7% 5% 2% - - - -
Interstate transfersc ST - - - - 7% - - 67%


Rounding accounts for totals not appearing to add up. The number of decimal places quoted is a measure of our confidence in the estimate.

(a) The key for fate of tyres is used in the graphs below.
(b) In the absence of relevant information, we have not included estimates of inappropriate disposal for SA, Tasmania, NT and the ACT.
(c) Interstate transfers refer to the State or Territory of origin. Some interstate transfers are tracked but many are not, such as exports from the ACT. It is suspected that there are significant numbers of untracked interstate movements of tyres but in the absence of information these cells in the table have been left blank.

The entries in Table 7.6 do not include rubber products other than tyres, but some non-quantitative observations are made later.

It should be noted that the mining industry generates less than 1% of the waste tyres in Australia but because of the large size of many of the tyres this constitutes 15% of the total waste rubber from tyres34. While some reuse is reported to occur for these tyres (such as in the goldfields of WA), it is believed that the great majority are disposed on site due to the costs and difficulty of alternative disposal options.

The salient features from the reported statistics include:

The estimated number of waste tyres generated and their fate

Figure 7.9 The estimated number of waste tyres generated and their fate in the States and Territories of Australia


26Based on NSW EPA Tyre Industry Waste Reduction Plan.

27Blumenthal et al (1992).

28The exception to this is the US for which the estimate is 28%; this figure is considerably higher than other sources and so has been discounted.

29Snyder (1998).

30Taken from Table 14-1 Snyder (1998).

31It is not specified in the source if the number of tyres is reported on an EPU basis. As EPU is an Australian concept, the reported values are assumed to be number of tyres without differentiation by type.

32Taken from Adhikari et al (2000).

33As reported in ACIL (2000).

34Corbett (1999).