- Every day India discards about 275,000 tyres but there is currently no comprehensive plan to deal with them. In addition, India imports millions of waste tyres from other countries which get used in the pyrolysis industry.
- The National Green Tribunal has expressed concern over the growing waste problem and asked the Central Pollution Control Board to devise a comprehensive plan to address the issue.
- The NGT also asked the CPCB for looking at restricting the import of waste tyres to ensure that India does not become a dump yard for global waste.
With India producing over six percent of the global waste tyres every year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has expressed concern over the absence of effective management of these waste tyres and their subsequent use in polluting industries. Following a plea by an NGO, the green court has asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for a comprehensive plan addressing the subject of waste tyre management.
Currently, the issue of waste tyres is dealt under Environment (Protection) Rules 1986, Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016, Central Pollution Control Board’s guidelines for Environmentally Sound Management of End of Life Vehicles, 2016 and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
Additionally, the green tribunal asked the CPCB for guidelines to restrict the import of waste tyres into the country that are being used in the pyrolysis industry which adds to the pollution and impacts health of workers.
It is estimated that about 300,000 tonnes of tyres are imported into the country each year from across the world like Australia for recycling and disposal, which, however, are not always done through environmentally safe procedures. One of the reasons for importing these waste tyres is that it is a steady source of supply as domestically, collection of waste tyres is not organised. Every day, it is estimated that India produces 650,000 tyres and discards 275,000 tyres.
The NGT noted that the CPCB guidelines on restricting the import of waste tyres are needed “so as to ensure that India does not become a dump yard for highly polluting hazardous waste material from other countries and also to ensure that health of the workers involved in the process is duly safeguarded.”
The NGT’s direction came on September 19, 2019, in a case related to the absence of proper management of End-of-Life Tyres/Waste Tyres (ELTs).
The applicant, Social Action for Forest & Environment (SAFE), told the tribunal that the use of waste tyres by the pyrolysis industry in India, which produces inferior quality products needs to be banned to prevent environmental damage. The environmental NGO also highlighted that the industry “emits highly carcinogenic/cancer-causing pollutants” which are harmful to the respiratory system.
Noida-based environmentalist Vikrant Tongad said we are not able to recycle and reuse the waste tyres that are being generated in India and instead we are importing them from other countries as well.
“There is a lack of data about the total number of tyres discarded in India and waste tyres imported which makes their management difficult. We are ending up like a dumpyard for other countries. These pyrolysis plants need to be regularised as even though some of these plants have permissions to operate, they do not comply with safeguards. We need to adopt environment-friendly methods to address this waste in accordance with global standards,” Tongad, who is also the founder of SAFE which was the appellant in the case at the NGT, told Mongabay-India.
Pyrolysis is a thermal degradation process carried out in conditions with limited or no oxygen to restrict combustion of the material. Pyrolysis of tyres and rubber products produce low-grade oils, pyrolysis gas (pyro gas), carbon black, and steel.
The common environmental issues associated with pyrolysis units include spillage of carbon in working area, exposure of workers to fine carbon particles that impact the respiratory system, being prone to high fugitive emissions, poor energy efficiency, spillage and floor washing containing charcoal particle and oil. The existing rules aim to ensure that units align to processes that prevent these issues.
According to the CPCB, most of the existing tyre pyrolysis units in the country are batch processes producing primarily oils for use as fuel oil in industrial furnaces. The pyro-gas generated from this process is used as fuel in pyrolysis. “In some of the plants some explosions also have been reported due to frequent opening of the reactors in the hot conditions,” the CPCB said.
More than 40 percent of tyre pyrolysis units not complying with rules
During the case, the green tribunal in April 2019, had sought a report from the CPCB about the status of compliance of rules on the issue and “remedial measures required.”
Subsequently, the pollution watchdog in July 2019 filed a status report highlighting that there are “637 tyre pyrolysis units in 19 states of the country.” It stressed that out of 637 tyre pyrolysis units, 251 units are complying, 270 units are not complying and 116 units are closed. The CPCB suggested a series of “remedial measures” in its status report including only allowing continuous tyre pyrolysis, installing packed bed scrubber for control of gaseous emission and reduction of odour and following the standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the central government’s environment ministry. As per CPCB’s report, 16 states have no tyre pyrolysis industry.
Following the July 2019 report, the NGT bench headed by NGT’s Chairperson Justice A.K. Goel, in its order on September 19, 2019, noted its concern about “import and recycling of waste pneumatic tyres”.
Satish Sinha, who is an associate director with Toxics Link, said the problem of waste tyres is very significant for India.
“In earlier days, the old tyres were retreaded and were reused. But with new kind of tyres like radial tyres, which can’t be retreaded, this practice was discontinued. Then the only option left for old tyres was that they were being sent to industry to be used as a fuel. We continue to import the waste tyres from other countries as well as adding to our own load. The sad part is that we don’t have proper management guidelines to address the issue. I think NGT’s order could be a critical move in ensuring proper management of such tyres,” Sinha told Mongabay-India.
While acknowledging the polluting and health impact of pyrolysis industry, the green tribunal also observed that there is a need for restrictions on import and regulation of the location of such units considering the carrying capacity of the area, so as to not impact the ecosystem.
“The states wherein such 270 non-complying units are located need to take remedial action including levy of environmental compensation to ensure that such units comply with air, water and hazardous waste pollution norms within a reasonable time span,” directed the NGT while asking the CPCB to monitor the compliance and file a report by November 2019 end.
Banner image: It is estimated that India discards about 275,000 tyres every day. Photo by ŠJů/Wikimedia Commons.