A recent press release by Kal Tire – Canada’s largest independent tire dealer and one of North America’s largest commercial tire dealers – tells about its first thermal conversion recycling facility set to open in Antofagasta, Chile, in 2019. The press release also elaborates on how developing government relationships was just as critical to the company as developing a viable recycling solution.

According to Kal Tire, there are stockpiles of mining tires in Chile so enormous, that they can be seen from space. Chile is home to some of the world’s largest copper mines. Over several decades, they’ve disposed an estimated 500,000 tons of scrap tires. The reality is, many mines scrap nearly 1,000 tires a year, says the company. Tire recycling industry aims to live up to sustainability charters and do the right thing, but until recently, practical, affordable solutions for recycling OTR and mining tires have been non-existent.

The Chile’s government knew it had to do something. What the country recognized was the need for tire recycling legislation, and in 2012, its government began those discussions. Kal Tire’s Mining Tire Group has had an extensive presence in Chile for nearly 20 years, and so the company had a vested interest in serving many long-time customers: it decided that if it was going to deliver the new tire, it also wanted to be the one to take it away and recycle it. By 2015, the company began developing relationships with the Chilean government and began designing its first thermal conversion tire recycling facility.

Thermal conversion, or pyrolysis, uses heat in the absence of oxygen to decompose organic materials and turn tires into steel, carbon black and fuel oil that is upgraded to diesel—resources that can fuel the very mine trucks they came from and the local economy. Kal Tire says that with traditional mining tire recycling, shredded tires are sometimes shipped to countries with less restrictive emissions standards, so they can be burned and used as tire-derived fuel to replace coal. Kal Tire says they wanted to develop a solution that would allow recycled resources to be reused for the same purpose: steel to steel, fuel oil to fuel oil, etc. In the hierarchy of waste management, landfilling is at the bottom, incineration is second to the bottom, and reuse is second to the top. According to the company, it wanted to develop a solution that was higher on this hierarchy.

Kal Tire reports that it has been a journey marked by steps forward and backward. Although at the time there were components of thermal conversion in existence, there was not a working system anywhere—not for the enormous size and weight of earthmover tires—so Kal Tire had to design the equipment and learned as we went. Eighteen months of study, engineering and design, large volume of investment, many calculations to ensure commercial viability of the project.

The press release says Kal Tire also had certain guiding principles to always follow: one, this facility had to operate to the highest environmental standards; two, it must operate at the highest level of safety; and three, it had to be scalable to adapt to different regions. In addition, the company searched the opportunity for automation.

Now, four years after beginning of the project, Kal Tire is close to opening its thermal conversion tire recycling facility near Antofagasta, and Chile has just enacted its legislation, which takes effect in 2021. Kal Tire says that soon, the 20,000 square-meter plant will have the capacity to recycle 20 tons of tires each day.

As highlighted by the company, in conversations with the Chilean government, Kal Tire voiced its customers’ concerns about needing a solution for these mountains of scrap tires. Working with the government to ensure the solution would conform to Chile’s environmental and emissions standards and laws was a huge endeavor.

According to Kal Tire, other countries—Colombia, Australia, South Africa and Canada—are moving toward mining tire disposal levies or legislation.

Press release by Kal Tire