How Tyres Threaten Aquatic and Hu­man Life

Scrap tyres were once looked upon as a cheap and en­vi­ron­men­tally green way to re­cy­cle waste ma­te­ri­als into us­able habi­tats for un­der­wa­ter flora and fauna. Asian Diver looks into how sub­merged tyres are ac­tu­ally en­dan­ger­ing ma­rine and hu­man life

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents - By Ter­ence Koh

In the mid­dle of Septem­ber this year, French au­thor­i­ties hired spe­cially equipped boats with lift­ing gear to haul to the sur­face thou­sands of old tyres from ar­ti­fi­cial reefs. Re­searchers had dis­cov­ered that the tyres were leak­ing toxic chem­i­cals, in­clud­ing heavy met­als, into the sea. This tyre reef sanc­tu­ary, lo­cated 500 me­tres from the Mediter­ranean coast­line be­tween the towns of Cannes and An­tibes in the south­east cor­ner of France, was cre­ated in the 1980s by dump­ing

25,000 car tyres into the sea af­ter lo­cal fish­er­men and French au­thor­i­ties en­vi­sioned a pro­tected area where fish­ing was banned and corals and ma­rine life could pop­u­late the tyres, thereby re­ju­ve­nat­ing the ma­rine life in this stretch of the Mediter­ranean.

With in­creas­ing fo­cus on the harm­ful ef­fects tyres can have on the en­vi­ron­ment and the ocean, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and tyre com­pa­nies are be­com­ing con­cerned. In ad­di­tion to the tox­i­c­ity from tyres sub­merged in wa­ter as sta­bilis­ers in break­wa­ters or as struc­tures in ar­ti­fi­cial reefs, tyre waste trans­mit­ted through the air from ve­hi­cles on roads is also one of the is­sues be­ing ad­dressed by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion in a White Pa­per drafted in Jan­uary 2018 stat­ing their strat­egy in deal­ing with plas­tics in a cir­cu­lar econ­omy. Be­sides ac­knowl­edg­ing that more re­search is needed to com­pre­hend where mi­croplas­tics come from and how they af­fect the en­vi­ron­ment and hu­man health, the com­mis­sion is look­ing into ways to cut down on mi­croplas­tics that come from tyres. One of the ways they in­tend to do this is by look­ing into set­ting an EU-wide stan­dard for the abra­sion rate of tyres through es­tab­lish­ing a com­mon test­ing method along with a re­quire­ment for pro­duc­ers to in­form con­sumers.


A 2017 sci­en­tific study led by Pi­eterJan Kole of the Open Univer­sity of The Nether­lands1 es­ti­mated that about 10 per­cent of the mi­cro­scopic pieces of plas­tic in the ocean are from tyres as they wear down. What most peo­ple ques­tion – or are ig­no­rant about – is how much tyre waste is in the en­vi­ron­ment, how much of it ends up in the sea, if and how it gets into the food chain, and what dan­ger it poses.

Ac­cord­ing to the study on the wear and tear of tyres by Kole et al., ev­ery car tyre weighs about one kilo­gram less when it is scrapped com­pared to when it was first bought. The miss­ing kilo­gram of tyre ma­te­rial is evis­cer­ated into the en­vi­ron­ment through wear and tear from driv­ing and brak­ing. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Euno­mia, 500,0002 tons of tyre waste from 290 mil­lions cars in Europe es­cape into the en­vi­ron­ment through the air, scat­tered on streets and high­ways, or swept into rivers and the sea.

The tyre reef be­ing dis­man­tled in France this Septem­ber was one of five ex­per­i­men­tal tyre reefs de­ployed in the 1980s on the French coasts of Palavas-les-Flots, Lan­grune-sur-Mer, Arca-chon-sur-Mer, Port-la-Novelle and Golfe-Juan, and they are still in place to­day. Af­ter a study done in 2005 by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Nice re­vealed that the toxic chem­i­cal leak from the tyres are a threat to ma­rine and hu­man life, an ini­tial re­moval op­er­a­tion was con­ducted in 2015 at the Golfe-Juan site to re­move 2,500 tyres as proof that the tyres could be re­moved safely. Divers and

boat crews were sched­uled to re­move 10,000 tyres in Oc­to­ber 2018, while the re­main­ing 12,500 tyres will be re­moved in the sec­ond quar­ter of

2019. The re­moved tyres will be sent to re­cy­cling cen­tres in Nice, where they will be bro­ken up into gran­ules and used in con­struc­tion projects.

The re­moval of the tyres is said to cost more than one mil­lion Eu­ros and will be paid for by the French au­thor­i­ties as well as the man­u­fac­turer of the tyres, French tyre gi­ant Miche­lin.

France, how­ever, is by no means the only coun­try that has cre­ated ar­ti­fi­cial reefs from tyres. Although there are an es­ti­mated 90,000 cu­bic me­tres of ar­ti­fi­cial tyre reefs in France, there are around 20 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres off­shore in Ja­pan. Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate that there are around 200 ar­ti­fi­cial tyre reefs around the world with the bulk of them in the wa­ters off the United States, Ja­pan, Malaysia and Is­rael. Around two mil­lion tyres were sunk off the coast of Florida in 1972 to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial reefs to pro­mote ma­rine life.

The idea for the tyre reef, un­sur­pris­ingly, orig­i­nated from US tyre gi­ant Goodyear.

“Goodyear came along and said ‘that will be use­ful to fish­er­men and the sea.’ They were try­ing to give a ve­neer of use­ful­ness to the de­lib­er­ate dump­ing of waste in the en­vi­ron­ment,” said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Jacky Bon­nemains from the Robin Hood en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sure group in an in­ter­view with

Ac­cord­ing to the French

Bio­di­ver­sity Agency, the five tyre reefs on the French coast, in­clud­ing the Golfe-Juan site, at­tracted 40 per­cent less ma­rine life than ar­ti­fi­cial reefs made of con­crete. Early tyre reefs also be­came de­tached due to strong cur­rents and storms like those which reg­u­larly oc­cur off the coast of Florida. With strong cur­rents push­ing them along, the tyres get dragged around on the ocean floor, dam­ag­ing corals and the ecosys­tem, with some even mak­ing their way onto beaches.

OP­PO­SITE PAGE: A pile of old black tyres pol­luted deep blue sea

Around two mil­lion tyres were sunk off the coast of Florida in 1972 to cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial reefs to

pro­mote ma­rine life



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