Global Effects EU Rubber Infill Ban 

In light of the increasing public awareness regarding the environmental and biological hazards caused by microplastics in terrestrial and aquatic habitats, the European Union has implemented a phased ban on the use of rubber infill in artificial sports surfaces. This ban is a part of the EU Commission Regulation 2023/2055, which amends Annex XVII of Directive 1907/2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) protocols. The regulation states that rubber infill, produced from granulated tires, is the primary contributor to microplastics that are intentionally introduced into the environment. Therefore, the EU has decided to ban its use instead of introducing control measures.

The European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association estimates that 527,000 tonnes of end-of-life tires are turned into rubber infill annually Europe-wide.  New sports pitch installations are already assessing alternatives to rubber infill ahead of the ban coming into force, and the shocking reality is that when infill production halts, and without a readily available alternative,  the majority of these waste tires will likely be incinerated locally or exported, moving the problem of tire disposal to less developed nations. 

Image 4

Following a ban on tire landfills in Europe, the Tyre Recovery Association recently estimated that 75% of the United Kingdom’s end-of-life tires (ELTs), in keeping with other major European countries,  are exported for disposal to countries in the Indian subcontinent, where disposal is less regulated and policed.   This “not in my backyard” approach to tire recovery is blatantly unsustainable, with the CO2 costs of shipping ELTs an additional 12-15,000km for disposal compounding an already environmentally costly cradle-to-grave lifecycle.  However, without a readily available intra-European solution for end-of-life tires, the export of ELTs has no option but to continue, with the infill ban leading to a potential increase in export volumes.

Without proper regulation, tire disposal is an industry with a huge environmental impact.  According to an article in Circular, ELTs disposed of in landfills can take many decades to decompose, releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and groundwater while contaminating runoff with microplastics: landfill is simply a short-term method to delay dealing with waste tires, creating a problem for a future generation.  Equally, incineration produces an immediate burden on the environment. For each tonne of end-of-life car tires that are burned, 2.0 tonnes of CO2e gas are produced, with the atmospheric emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals such as lead and mercury in countries where air pollution regulation is not stringently enforced.

Unnamed 1

The EU infill ban is being phased in gradually, but we need to act quickly to pioneer and scale up circular economy solutions to repurpose waste tires in sustainable processes.   Although the EU is the first to introduce an infill ban, with increasing global scrutiny of microplastic pollution, it seems only a matter of time before similar legislation proliferates worldwide: exporting the problem is simply not a solution.

A truly circular approach, like Circular Rubber’s thermomechanical rubber devulcanization approach, offers an alternative and enables closing the loop for ELTs.

James Baker, Consultant for Circular Rubber

James has over 15 years of experience in the global tire and rubber recycling sector, working in business development, project management, and supply chain optimization.  He has gained fellowships as a chartered shipbroker and logistician and is a consultant and project trouble-shooter worldwide.