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Kenya needs to innovate its way towards waste tyre life extension

Based on available statistics, it is estimated that in Kenya about 1.1 Million waste tyres (respectively 34,000 tons) have been burnt haphazardly, dumped, destroyed, or re-used by methods that pollute the air, soils, and groundwater. What is of concern is that the amount of tyre waste will continue to grow as the number of vehicles on our roads continues to grow.

There are thousands of people, largely in the informal sector engaged in waste tyre recovery activities like picking, processing and trading them. A minor percentage of these used tyres are used for producing shoes, ropes and other materials, but to a larger extent, the tyres are burnt in order to separate the steel from the rubber, which is then sold to scrap traders.

To understand more about the reuse or recycling of tires in Kenya, The Recycling Marketplace (RMP) sat with Ms. Janet Ruto of Geocycle, a subsidiary of Lafarge Kenya manufacturers of Bamburi Cement to understand the waste tyre material landscape in Kenya.

RMP: What is the status of tyre reuse or recycling in Kenya? Is there a percentage increase or decrease?

Janet: There are many ways of reusing waste tyres in Kenya;

  1. We have partly worn-out tyres which can be reused for their original purpose. These types of tyres are still safe for reuse as long as they meet the road specifications of the country and must be safe and properly functioning.
  2. We have retreading- This is a re-manufacturing process for tires that replace the tread on worn tiresRetreading is applied to casings of spent tires that have been inspected and repaired.
  3. Worn out tyres- This is the end-use of a tyre where it can longer be used for its intended purposes, and it cannot be retreaded. This could be because of age or damage.

With this in mind, the sustainable management of the waste tyre will depend on innovation and the local manufacturing capacity. For instance, one can engage in;

  • Material recovery like the coastal protection projects, creative production of chairs and other furniture or for beautification like Mombasa Kibarani Project.
  • Material repurposing like the use of the tyres as the secondary fuel for incineration, making ropes used in upholstery or, footwear locally known as “Akala”.
  • Energy recovery- This is a method where the tyres are used to provide head that will be used to substitute fossil fuels. Pyrolysis- this is the recovery of the organic compounds by heating the tyres in the total absence of oxygen. The products produced from the process are the Puro oil, the carbon black and scrap steel This is mostly used in the production of steam, electricity, lime and paper.

RMP: What is the widest use of old tyres in Kenya?

Janet: For a very long time, open burning of the tyres to recover and sell the steel content to scrap dealers has been very high. However, with stringent law enforcement by NEMA and sensitization of the risks of open burning, people have started embracing product recovery through pyrolysis, beautification materials and co-processing like what we do at Bamburi Cement Ltd.

RMP: What is Co-Processing?

Janet: Co-processing is the use of waste as raw material, or as a source of energy, or both to replace natural mineral resources (material recycling) and fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and gas (energy recovery) in industrial processes, mainly in energy-intensive industries (EII) such as cementlimesteelglass, and power generation. Waste materials used for Co-processing are referred to as alternative fuels and raw materials (AFR).

In Geocycle’s case, we always use old tyres which are beyond reuse or recycling capacity in Kenya.

According to the Basel Convention technical guidelines on the identification and management of the used tyres, it states that Energy recovery of the tyre through co-processing in the cement industry is one of the safest, environmentally friendly methods of waste tyre disposal process. This is because it does not release additional emission to the atmosphere of sulfur oxides or nitrogen oxides when appropriate emission control devices are properly installed. It further states that The high operating temperature in the kiln allows for complete combustion of the tyres and oxidation of the steel beads without adversely affecting kiln operation.

RMP: Are there reuse applications we are yet to exploit in Kenya?

Janet: Yes, energy recovery is one of them. At present, we are at 5% application rate which is not good enough especially when we’ve had the local capacity for some time now. This low application rate is because we lack the appropriate collection infrastructure to make tyre recovery economically feasible. We need organized collection centers and, enhanced public awareness to increase the economical availability of tyre materials.

Another unexploited reuse application of old tyres is the manufacture of rubber floors for children play courts and sports floors.

RMP: What happens to tyres in Kenya if they are not recycled, reused?

Janet: They end up in landfills. Unfortunately, this takes up a lot of space in the already filled dumpsite. 30% of the waste tyres produced goes to the dumpsites.

RMP: How can we increase tyre recycling in Kenya?

Janet: Waste tyre management regulation can be a good start. Beyond that, market innovations, empowering waste tyres entrepreneurs, and adoption of better ways of transporting of the tyres to the end-users through baling and shredding.

RMP: What is your company doing as far as tyre recycling is concerned?

Janet: Bamburi cement Ltd has collected and disposed of more than 600,000 tons of waste tyres since the year 2010, we work with the informal sectors who do the collection of the tyres and the delivery to our plant. These are the people who used to burn the tyres to recover the scrap steel contained. We have ensured that we pay them for the tyres they deliver because in their previous methods, they were earning a living through this feedstock. This incentive translates into protecting the environment.

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