Recovering, recyling old tires … a genuine initiative
‘Tire graveyards’ environmentally hazardous
FBy Chaitali B. Roy
our years back, the Daily Mail carried a story on the world’s biggest tire graveyard. For us in Kuwait, it was a shock to find out that the world’s biggest dump yard of tires was in our backyard in Sulaibiya which in those days was home to seven million rubber wheels. And that was not all. To quote the Daily Mail, “The expanse of rubber is so vast that the sizable indents on the earth are now visible from space.” A year earlier a devastating fire, just one of the many risks a dump yard is susceptible to, broke out near Jahra. It took hours for specialists to bring the blaze under control.
Stockpiled tires are environmentally hazardous. Not only are they perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes, vermin and snakes, but accidental fires can also release toxic fumes, and they occupy valuable space. It is because of these reasons that many countries in North America and Europe have banned landfilling of tires and made recycling mandatory. Authorities in Kuwait have tried hard to deal with the situation but definitely more needs to be done and soon. Gurvinder Lamba, President of Al Mailem Group of Companies, a leader in the field of automotive products and services in Kuwait, has involved himself in finding environmentally sustainable solutions to the issue of dump yards. A mechanical engineer by training, he researched ways of recovering, recycling and reusing tires in an environmentally friendly or acceptable method. In an interview, Arab Times caught up with Gurvinder Lamba on his work with recycled tires that are in his words ‘100% made in Kuwait’.
Arab Times: I was reading an article in the Daily Mail published in 2013, which stated that on the date of publication, around 7 million tires are dumped in the tire graveyard in Sulaibiya — is it true?
Lamba: The “tire graveyard” which has somehow attracted this name in Kuwait has probably more than 7 million tires today since this article was published. The Government has shown a lot of concern about this matter and is trying several approaches to get rid off and reduce this used tire graveyard as early as possible.
AT: And is it true that it is so vast and deep, that it is visible from space?
Lamba: Yes this is true. One can check it out on Google Maps or YouTube.
AT: What are the environmental implications of what in the developed world would be deemed illegal and unsafe?
Lamba: Environmentally speaking, although most materials used in tire manufacturing are biodegradable, it would, however, take a very long time for it to be absorbed by nature. Hence the reason for it to be treated. North America, Europe, select South Asian and Far East countries have regulations in place where used tires are recycled through its many secondary uses.
Used tires at the dump yard in Sulaibiya
a fuel in cement industries to fire up their furnaces. Then there is the cryogenic route where the tire is frozen to a certain temperature and then blasted to break it down to powder and crumb form. Another process is pyrolysis which is not so environmentally friendly. And then there is the mechanical approach of simply chopping down the complete tire for further application. The only real barrier is any of these technologies do need substantial financial commitment.
AT: What are the specific ways in which you are putting these tires to use?
Lamba: Our technology is purely mechanical where any sort of environmental damage is totally avoided. We produce several byproducts by recycling used tires. One such product is crumb rubber, which is free of any impactful impurities. Currently, our downstream product is making safety tiles from this crumb rubber. All our equipment is from Europe. We are investing in some more similar origin equipment to produce many other products shortly. One very interesting and practical use is making rubberized asphalt for road making an application. KISR officials are trying to put together a pilot project along with MPW engineers to lay out a road with this material and evaluate its sustainability. One interesting by-product generated is steel shreds. It is a known fact that all kinds of steel is recycled.
AT: Did you face bureaucratic and logistical problems while going through this?
Lamba: We had our share of issues, but patience helps, and we came through eventually.
AT: Do you have any roadmap planned for the future?
Lamba: Going forward, as I mentioned earlier, we will diversify into more and more products from recycled tires which will help to bring certain value addition to our society.
AT: I am sure you will agree that steps need to be taken immediately to deal with this problem especially since this issue has been covered by international media not now but much earlier and yet the problem persists.
Lamba: As I mentioned earlier, the government is addressing this matter very seriously and would come up with a practical game plan very soon. We are more than happy to provide perhaps a few guidelines from our own experience, where we made mistakes and learnt what not to do. In fact, we are still learning as we evolve.
AT: What has been the response to your initiative?
Lamba: Our product has been tested and approved by international laboratories which has really helped us to build our confidence, and of course increase the sales.
AT: You have an event going on at Muruoj to raise consciousness on this issue. Would you like to share some information about that?
Lamba: The idea to promote at Murooj was mainly this venue attracts large crowds on the weekend. Secondly, the outdoor ambience at this venue is unique especially with a mind-blowing view of the Sahara Golf & Country Club. I am personally grateful to their management for letting us do this event. My team and I did quite a bit of brainstorming and finally decided to use Al Mailem Tires as a platform to increase the awareness of recycling used tires in particular, and the kind of products that can be produced from it.