I’d come across them during my career in the oil and gas industry. I saw the giant trucks with huge tires driving around, but I never gave it another thought. What would happen with these tires when worn out never crossed my mind. What would happen with all that material once it was no longer useful? I never realized that the common practice in most regions of the world is to ‘stockpile’ these tires on the mine sites at the end of life.
When I decided to leave my career in the traditional oil and gas industry behind and focus on leaving a more positive legacy, I became fascinated by the concept of the circular economy. In early 2018, the first Circularity Gap report was published by the Circle Economy Foundation, revealing that the world economy was only 9.1% circular. At the time, I did not fully grasp that roughly 67% of global GHG emissions were somehow related to material management. This presents a huge opportunity to make an impact, increase the percentage of circular material use – and decrease the global GHG emissions.
If only it were that simple……
Exactly four years ago, on December 2, 2019, Circular Rubber Technologies was incorporated in British Columbia, Canada. We defined our purpose as turning the world’s waste into value and started with a focus on these gigantic tires from the mining industry. Our initial plans all came to a grinding halt when COVID-19 slowed everything down. We seriously doubted if it was worth pursuing this idea, but the feeling of urgency, the inability to grasp why the system could and would not change if it made so much sense to re-use this valuable waste again, gave us the courage to press on.
In those early years, we bootstrapped it all. We shipped some old mining tire crumb to our testing facility, were successful in some trials, burned some rubber the next day, jumped for joy when we did get it right the week after, discovered how extremely resourceful the team can be in fixing problems that come on our path and in the end we were able to successfully produce a product that customers pay for. It worked! Well, if it worked, you need your own production facility, right?
Again, if only it were that simple…..
In my old days, you would have an army of engineers, schedulers, procurement specialists, and commercial people, and you’d go through this very organized process of different project stage gates; it sometimes felt like we were doing at all at the same time, with only a fraction of the people it would normally take. But we are pressing through, making it work, and our facility in Red Deer is well underway!
This morning, the world economy was only 8.6% circular. This means this percentage has decreased over the last five years instead of up. For me, this means that we need to speed up. Speed up the delivery of our first facility, the delivery of the second and third facility, and start proving a solution that enables these tires to be reused in new tires. Reuse the resources we already have over and over again.
Is this easy? Absolutely not. The last four years have been the most challenging years of my working life. Not a single day was predictable; not a single plan or schedule could just be executed as there was always something. The number of NO’s we got, the look on people’s faces who thought we were crazy but were too polite to tell you straight to your face, and the only certainty you have is that nothing is certain. It is the team and the people you take on this journey that make the journey worthwhile. That makes it an extremely rewarding and exciting experience. Being able to chase this dream and vision of a more circular future, working on that every day with this fantastic group of people, provides me with such joy and inspiration to continue to go against the flow until we have managed to reverse the flow!