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Waste to wealth: How artistic recycling of used tyres boosts economy, saves environment

By Chijioke Iremeka
05 November 2022   |   5:36 am
Before now, used and worn out tyres were known for constituting serious environmental nuisance all over the world due to their non-biodegradation nature and because they could not be easily recycled like other solid wastes.

Artistic recycling of used and worn out tyres to create exciting products like sandals, rubber baskets, rubber tiles and tyre chairs for living rooms and other locations is becoming a very effective way of ridding the immediate environment of diseases and creating wealth, CHIJIOKE IREMEKA writes:

Before now, used and worn out tyres were known for constituting serious environmental nuisance all over the world due to their non-biodegradation nature and because they could not be easily recycled like other solid wastes.

The Guardian learnt that the cost of recycling a worn out tyre is almost the cost of procuring a new one and sometimes higher, therefore, tyre recycling was not contemplated initially. The increasing number of used tyres and how fast some of them reach their end-of-life has made recycling them a reasonable strategy worldwide to save the environment.

Used tyres are among the most problematic solid wastes due to the large number, durability and the fact that they are non-biodegradable. If not improperly managed, they cause serious environmental hazards, including rubber pollution that is very injurious to human health.

As tyres are not recycled but discarded in communities, residents are creating viable environment for disease-carrying rodents to thrive. Waste tyres store stagnant water in which female anopheles mosquito that causes malaria and other diseases breeds freely and massively.

It was also learnt that discarded tyres are potential homes for snakes, therefore, recollecting these tyres for recycling will help prevent snake bite and boost safety. “We must also mention that while tyres serve as fuel, burning them leads to serious environmental pollution. Apart from being difficult to quench, they produce dangerous black and thick smoke,” an environmentalist, Ubrei-Joe Maimoni Mariere said.

According to Mariere, from the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA, FoEN), the black and thick smoke contaminates the soil and water in the community, causing serious damage to aquatic life, soil nutrients and agriculture.

“When we recycle these tyres instead, we are significantly reducing the potential damage of this scale in the community,” the expert added. Today, there are a number of ways of recycling worn out tyres in an exciting and creative manner even when the process is unknown to the recyclers. They unconsciously recycle used and worn out tyres in their search for new products.

Tyre or rubber recycling, according to Wikipedia, refers to the process of salvaging used vehicle tyres that could no longer be used on the vehicles due to wear and tear or irreparable damage. Typically, this category of tyres also known as end-of-life tyres, are no longer functional. It involves the conversion of waste tyres into materials that can be used in creating new products.

Much like human beings, tyres have a life span. When they become old, worn out and irreparable, they are often dumped in landfills. Unfortunately, this practice leads to environmental issues and that is why some people now reuse waste tyres for various purposes.

For example, some artisans have shown that one can actually use waste tyres as an item for gyms in the jungle. Used tyres can be used in play parks, sports clubs and zoos around. Animals like big monkeys, big cats, little monkeys and others find tyres as perfect item with which to play in zoos. Athletes, gymnasts, military personnel and paramilitary organisations use tyres during training and exercises. This is one of the great ways to reuse tyres. Individuals, groups and organisations can donate tyres to these places in a bid to free the environment.

Garden planters, outdoor furniture, playground equipment, fiber steel, and nylon can be derived from recycling tyres. It’s an exciting option for those who have creative or crafty skills. They can make sculptures, artworks and crafts from old tyres.

Common examples of rubber-molded products are carpet padding, rubber flooring materials, patio decks, livestock mats, movable speed bumps, sidewalks, dock bumpers and railroad crossing, among others.

By recycling tyres, we are saving up space on landfills. When tyres are recycled, the world is creating an opportunity for new products to emerge. Products made from the recycled tyres are usually cheap, though some can be expensive.

One of such artisans who have perfected the arts of turning used and worn out tyres into exciting products is Elizabeth Sodipo, the Chief Executive Officer, Urban Ecodesigns, whose space is inundated with certain designs.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said: “The product is not about the cheapness. I can tell you that the cost of recycling an old tyre could be equal to the cost of procuring a new one or more. It’s all about saving the environment. Definitely, it’s much more labour and capital intensive because you have to get those equipment with which you can make rubber tiles and others.

“I know of a lady that makes rubber tiles in Ibadan. She crushes the tyres with sophisticated equipment and put them in blower before she would turn them into tiles. It requires labour and money to get them to do it well.

“To be honest, it’s not necessarily cheaper. You’re using almost the same material that you will need to make a new one. It’s just that. Probably the only thing missing is the framing. So, in terms of cost, with my experience, they’re not necessarily cheap and in some cases, they could be more expensive depending on the kind of design the client wants.

“It’s just about the environmental sustainability. If you were going to do the same thing, it is going to be made from direct wood whereby deforestation will happen. Tyre recycling could reduce the cutting of trees and green house effect on the environment.

“So, imagine all our tyres being turned into furniture and other things, it’s going to save a lot more. It’s going to save the earth. We don’t sell in terms of being cheaper because they are not cheaper unless you want to do a basic design that is not creative. If you really want to come up with something that would be creative enough to be put in your office spaces, indoor home spaces, it’s about the same cost of a new one. Sometimes, they will be more expensive. I don’t sell because of cheapness or affordability. The people that patronise me more are environment-friendly people. They are the people that are creative, those that are more into green space, green technology and environment- friendly. They are the people who are more likely to want to buy such products unlike somewhere else where they’re looking for the most affordable or cheapest products for them to have.”

On her inspirations, she said: “I got inspired by two of my friends. They actually do something like that. One of them lives in the United States. I’m so happy. Basically, I think as Africa, Nigeria, we reuse things a lot, but we just have not really thought of creative ways to reuse them. Growing up, I’ve always liked to reuse things.”

A civil engineer, Mr. Ebuka Okafor, said the process of recycling rubber through stamping and cutting gave large pieces that can be used in the making of sandals or road sub-base. The pieces can also be joined to form a flexible net.

According to Okafor, a complete house can be built using tyres by simply ramming them together, filing them with soil or sand and later covering them with concrete. They are identified as earth ships.

“Used tyres can also be reused in different civil engineering applications for embankments and subgrade fill. They can be used for bridge abutments and as backfill for walls. Used tyres are also utilised as barriers. Examples are collision reduction, blasting mats, rainwater runoff and wave action that protects marshes and piers. They are as well used as sound barriers between residences and roadways,” he added.

When contacted to speak on what it does with the disused tyres recovered on the streets, a Taskforce’s Chairman, CSP Shola Jejeloye, whose team accompanies Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) officials for operations said his duty was to accompany the agency to recover the tyres.

“I will not speak for LAWMA, you can reach out to them. Ours is to accompany them during operations. The much I can say is that they recycle it but you need to hear from them,” he added.

When contacted, LAWMA revealed that it collaborated with its sister agency, the Lagos State Parks and Gardens Agency (LASPARK), to use over 12, 000 pet bottles and 60 discarded old tyres of different sizes to build eco-friendly Christmas trees last year.

The Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ibrahim Odumboni, said the authority chose to promote the recycling initiative by building the Christmas trees from recyclable items to demonstrate to residents that waste materials could be used to creatively improve the aesthetics of the environment.

“We partnered LASPARK on the initiative to practise what we preach, by creating Christmas trees whose main materials were sourced from recyclables, and by so doing, teach residents of the state the importance of engaging in recycling, especially during this festive season.”

The eco-friendly Christmas trees, created by the Foundation for a Better Environment (F.A.B.E) on behalf of both LAWMA and LASPARK, were strategically positioned at the Johnson-Jakande-Tinubu (JJT) Park; Alausa Secretariat setback; LAWMA Head Office garden, Ijora; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (opposite 7up) and Allen Avenue Traffic Intersection, Ikeja.

Outside the country, in 1990, it was estimated that over 1billion scrap tyres were in stockpiles in the United States. As of 2015, only 67 million of them remained in stockpiles. From 1994 to 2010, the European Union increased the amount of tyres recycled from 25 per cent of annual discards to nearly 95 per cent, with roughly half of the end-of-life tyres used for energy, mostly in cement manufacturing.

It was learnt that Pyrolysis and devulcanisation could facilitate recycling. Aside from the use as fuel, the main end use for tyres remains as ground crumb rubber. In 2017, 13 per cent of US tyres removed from their primary use were sold in the used tyre market.

Of the tyres that were scrapped, 43 per cent were burnt as tire-derived fuel, with cement manufacturers being the largest users. Another 25 per cent were used to make ground rubber, 8 per cent were used in civil engineering projects, 17 per cent were disposed of in landfills and 8 per cent were used for other purposes.

Globally, tyre graveyards are a common environmental hazard, with significant pollutants and other challenges. An example is the Sulaibiya tyre graveyard in Kuwait.

The Guardian gathered that in the real sense of tyre recycling, which hasn’t been deeply rooted in the country, the first step after taking waste tyres to the processing plants is to cut them into small pieces.

The idea here is to reduce the size of the tyre to what can be handled easily. With the help of shredders, the tyres are shredded or cut with rotating shafts to produce pieces of tyre shreds of two-inch length. At the end of this stage, you then derive raw materials that could be used for fuel.

It was learnt that tyre recycling could take two forms: mechanical systems or cryogenic systems. While the mechanical system involves scraping tyres into smaller chips at ambient temperature, the cryogenic system shutters rubber size into smaller chips by freezing scrap tyres at low temperatures.

An industrial chemist and petrochemical engineer, Samuel Chukwunulu, explained that with the use of liquid nitrogen, one can super-cool tyre shreds after which the shreds would pass through the brittle and cold rubber, through hammer mills to shatter the brittle rubber into tiny particles. After that, the steel in it would be attracted or removed using strong magnets.

According to him, there is need to separate the fibre from other constituents, using air classifiers. Once that is done, one would have obtained recycled rubber that is clean and ready for other products.

It was gathered that some unscrupulous profiteers locally and internationally do rethread the tyres and sell them to unsuspected motorists as healthy tyres. Such rethreaded tyres cause accidents that claim lives, especially when motorists lose control of their vehicles on account of tyre burst while in motion.

“We do not rethread bad tyres, what we do is to rethread the tyres with bad thread, though the tyre itself is still good. A tyre’s life span can still be good while the thread is already bad, especially the smooth tyres without big thread,” Steve Martins, an artisan at the Ladipo Auto Parts Market, Mushin, Lagos explained.

Motorists are, therefore, warned to be very careful while buying tyres so as not to by rethreaded tyres in place of new or fairy used ones. The Guardian observes that though recycling tyres could be hectic and labour intensive than recycling other waste materials, it’s a solution to some problems. It helps to check environmental degradation, promotes arts and culture, boost the economy and reduce mass unemployment plaguing many countries, including Nigeria.

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