BBC Documentary Focuses On Tire Dumping And Exports

The BBC’s recent Panorama prime-time documentary series on illegal tire dumping featured a segment on exporting end-of-life (ELTs) tires that is drawing interest from tire recyclers in the U.S. and other countries struggling with the growing export of scrap tires. The program, entitled ‘Britain’s Biggest Waste Dumpers’, looked at what it described as “fly-tipping on an industrial scale” and highlighted three key issues: the perceived lack of transparency and clarity relating to retail tire disposal charges; illegal dumping in the UK; and the negative effects exporting end of life tires has on domestic tire recycling businesses and on the destination country.

The reporting covered both the legal export of tires and illegal exports pointing out that the UK does allow tires to be exported for use as fuel but only to countries that place environmental controls on factory emissions, such as Malaysia and South Korea. The program’s investigation found evidence that millions of tires sold for export are in fact being smuggled into Vietnam and China via Malaysia and other approved countries.

Most alarming to the UK’s tire recycling industry, the BBC reported that export demand is growing and many legitimate UK tire recycling firms are now experiencing a shortage of supply caused by buyers from Asia who undercut prices to get the tires. Many of these operations are facing closure or bankruptcy as a result of the shortages. According to Panorama, the illegal export of used tires is one of the greatest tire recycling problems of recent years. Commenting on the documentary, the UK-based trade publication Tyres & Accessories said several UK tire recyclers reported they have been approached by agents looking for volumes of tires to export on a weekly basis.

While these offers seem legitimate and often include documents pointing to a legal destination in a country like Indonesia, the BBC went undercover and showed an example of one such facility that wasn’t a tire recycling factory at all and that the tires were, in fact, re-exported to Vietnam before being driven 10 hours north to the border with China and being sold as fuel for porcelain factories.

The documentary estimated that the illegal export trade now involves upwards of 1.5 million scrap tires a year. Panorama further pointed out that besides being illegal, the export activity is as “far cry from consumer expectations when they pay for tires to be disposed of.”

Tire fees, illegal dumping and more The documentary also explored discrepancies in the collection and reporting of tire disposal fees, concluding that the information on how, who and why the fees were being collected was confusing at best.

In some instances, the documentary suggested tire retailers “are using the green fee as a profit stream” and were in some cases responsible for driving down the cost of collection and indirectly contributing to “tire dumping.”

Tyres & Accessories pointed out that the Tyre Industry Federation and other national tire groups would likely combat the lack of clarity and transparency regarding fees with some kind of awareness-raising campaign among its members and the industry at large.

Generally complimentary of Panorama’s coverage in the documentary, Tyres & Accessories did point out that the media put “too much emphasis on the minority of recyclers and collectors that are not members of industry associations like the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA) and therefore do not represent the views of the majority of this part of the (tire recycling) business.”

According to TRA officials, 80 percent or more of the 55 million scrap tires generated in the UK are lawfully disposed by the association and its allied Responsible Recyclers Scheme.

The scheme ensures full traceability and accountability of waste tires throughout the disposal chain, from collection to reuse in approved applications. Commenting on BBC TV’s Panorama July 16 broadcast,TRA secretary general Peter Taylor said the latest investigation highlighted the importance of programs like the Responsible Recyclers Scheme and showed the devastation and criminality that result when companies operate outside the law.

In an interview featured in the documentary, Taylor commented that “the main issue in all of this is enforcement and observance of duty of care,” and that “as long as there are operators at the margins of our business who decide to disregard the duty of care and if the enforcement regime is inadequate then we will continue to have problems.”

© Scrap Tire News, August 2012