Wed, Oct 23, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Trading tires: How the West is fueling a waste crisis in Asia

A key route in the waste tire trade runs from Britain to India, where a huge demand for tires as fuel is causing widespread environmental damage

By John Geddie, Sudarshan Varadhan and Joe Brock  /  Reuters, NABIPUR, India, and KULAI, Malaysia

Illustration: Mountain People

When night falls in the Indian village of Nabipur, backyard furnaces come to life, burning waste tires from the West, and making the air thick with acrid smoke and the soil black with soot.

Not long ago, Nabipur was a quiet farming village in northern India, but the village is now home to at least a dozen furnaces burning a steady stream of tires to make low-quality oil in a process known as pyrolysis.

Global trade in waste tires has almost doubled in the past five years, mainly to developing countries such as India and Malaysia, according to customs data provided to the UN.

Britain is the largest exporter, followed by Italy and the US. India is by far the biggest buyer, accounting for 32 percent of global imports last year, up from 7 percent five years ago, the UN data show.

Many of the tires are sent to recycling operations that comply with emissions and waste disposal regulations, but there is also a vast trade to backyard pyrolysis operations that do not, according to local authorities.

In May, Reuters revealed that a mass poisoning in southern Malaysia had links to companies engaged in pyrolysis.

Using unpublished customs data and interviews with dozens of industry sources, Reuters documented a growing international trade in waste tires that pollute the communities that host them, according to local authorities and health experts.

For many developed countries, shipping tires abroad is cheaper than recycling them domestically. That helped drive international trade in rubber waste to nearly 2 million tonnes last year, equivalent to 200 million tires, from 1.1 million tonnes in 2013.

The trade has also been fed by ravenous fuel demand for industrial furnaces in countries like India, the emergence of inexpensive Chinese pyrolysis equipment, and weak regulations worldwide.

Tires are not defined as hazardous under the Basel Convention, which governs trade in dangerous waste, meaning that there are few restrictions on trading them internationally unless specified by the importing country.

In most countries, including China and the US, the majority of scrap tires are handled domestically and dumped in landfills, recycled or used as fuel in factories producing products such as cement and paper.

Pyrolysis supporters have said that the process can be a relatively clean way of disposing of tires and turning them into useful fuel, but controlling emissions and processing waste residue from the burning of a product that is made up a wide range of chemicals, synthetic rubber and natural rubber is expensive and difficult to make profitable on a mass scale.

State-of-the-art plants can cost tens of millions of dollars, whereas basic Chinese-made pyrolysis equipment is available from online retailers for as little as US$30,000.

An Indian government audit found that as of July there were 637 licensed pyrolysis plants countrywide, of which 270 were not complying with environmental standards and 116 had been shut down.

Most operators were using rudimentary equipment that exposed workers to fine carbon particles and led to dust, oil and air pollution leaking into the plant and surroundings, the audit said.

Industry sources have said that several hundred more unlicensed pyrolysis businesses are operating across India.

Pyrolysis plants have mushroomed in the southern Malaysian state of Johor over the last decade, where they supply fuel for ships, industry sources said.

This story has been viewed 2532 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top