Roy Maharaj, an engineer at Mathe Group, displays the finished rubber crumb to delegates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group during their visit to the factory in Hammarsdale.
Roy Maharaj, an engineer at Mathe Group, displays the finished rubber crumb to delegates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group during their visit to the factory in Hammarsdale.

Where business, ethics meet

By Network Reporter Time of article published Jan 30, 2019

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DURBAN - Environmental scientists were impressed with the work of Mathe Group, South Africa’s largest radial truck tyre recycling plant.

Scientists attending the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II meeting in Durban last week visited the Hammarsdale-based factory.

Dr Marlies Craig, science officer for the IPCC Working Group II, pointed out that operations like Mathe Group were important in light of the dire warnings in the latest IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C.

“Without wide-ranging, unprecedented and immediate transformation in the way we do things, we are heading for dangerous levels of global warming, sea level rise, extreme weather and related disasters. During this meeting, we organised a range of excursions to interesting sites where our international guests could see some local climate change and sustainable development activities,” she said.

Dr Mehran Zarrebini, head of British investment group PFE International, which bought a major stake in the group three years ago, said because tyres were robust and durable, they were notoriously difficult to recycle and took a long time to biodegrade. They usually ended up in landfills or dumped on vacant land. Often, poor communities burnt them for warmth or to remove scrap metal. The resulting dioxins and carbon monoxide were an environmental and a health hazard.

Mathe Group began operating from a mini factory in New Germany, Pinetown in 2012. The joint venture with PFE International ensured a ready supply of rubber crumb for the manufacture of underlays for carpets made at PFE’s Van Dyck Floors factory.

When the new R20 million processing plant in Hammarsdale came on stream in 2016, the number of tyres processed shot up from 8 500 in 2012 to more than 170 000 in 2018 and rubber crumb output grew from 400 tons to 6 200 tons.

However, Zarrebini warned that there had to be strong business case for recycling and the Mathe Group persevered based on product and market development. “You have to develop a demand for products. You have to essentially create an industry and a consumer need for products made from recycled rubber,” he said.

Another challenge was finding a use for all of the recycled products.

If uptake was restricted to just one size of rubber crumb, then the remainder of the particles resulting from the recycling process would become environmentally hazardous waste in a different form, he explained. The same goes for the high-tensile steel which makes up 15-20% of a 68kg truck tyre.

“So, when you start a business such as this, you have to anticipate all the by-products and find markets for all of them. We’ve managed to develop markets for different types of rubber crumb across a broad range of industries as well as an export market for the steel which is used by the motor and ship building industries in Korea and Australia,” he said.

Zarrebini said the investment in Mathe Group was a perfect fit with the broader group’s environmental standards. “Sustainability is key,” he said.

- THE MERCURY 

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