Australian Ban of the Export of Whole Tyres is Flouted

Despite the ban on whole tyre exports, tyres and other wastes continue to be exported from Australia.

A joint operation between the Australian Border Force and the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water has resulted in the seizure of 730 tonnes of waste tyres in the past 12 months.

Part of the cause was the demand from some markets for a feedstock of tyres to supply pyrolysis plants in countries where environmental standards were not as strict as they are in Australia.

“The illegal export of waste is a lucrative business where exporters are motivated by higher profits in overseas markets that don’t apply the same environmental standards as Australia, or by potential financial savings through waste dumping overseas,” the spokesperson said.

“The profit drivers associated with the illegal export of waste threaten the uptake of onshore recycling and waste management by legitimate Australian processors who operate facilities in a safe and accountable way.”

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the illegal export of waste is an environmental crime that carries a huge risk to the environment and human health.

“We’ve seen some bad-faith actors who want to export waste, like tyres, for profit to countries with more lenient environment laws,” she said.

“It can mean tyres being processed in an unsafe way, resulting in the emission of carbon and toxic gases.”

2021 regulations require Australian companies to have a licence to export tyres, and can only do so for specific purposes. Tyres can be exported for reuse or retreading, while tyres processed into shreds or crumbs can be used for tyre-derived fuel. Whole tyres cannot be legsally exported for use in pyrolysis plants.

Australia’s waste management policies all lead to disposal outcomes, basically incineration and chemical recycling, but we don’t have those infrastructures set up yet, so we export a lot of it,” she said.

According to an article in The Brisbane TimesWaste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia chief executive Gayle Sloan said exports were necessary as Australia imported most of its tyres.

“We do need to find global markets for products we don’t manufacture ourselves,” she said.

Sloan said most waste management companies were legitimate operators, and illegal exports were rare.

“There’s a lot of transparency in the waste export management stream because most countries now have inspectors at their borders, too. You can’t export material that’s low quality because it will get sent back, and that’s a massive cost,” she said.

“It’d be cheaper to dump it for an unscrupulous operator, rather than putting it on a ship – the financial risk is too large.”

Yet, the reality is that exports of whole tyres do still take place and there is ample evidence that controls at the point of import are not quite what they should be.

The situation could largely have been resolved had the Indian government not watered down its EPR scheme to the point that it placed no realistic restrictions on imports.

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