According to Dr Mehran Zarrebini, chief executive of British investment group PFE International, South Africa is one of the largest tyre recyclers in the world.
An estimated 1.1 million new truck tyres are sold in South Africa each year. At the end of its useful life, 80% of a tyre can still be used, provided the casing is not damaged. Because local transporters rely on retreaded tyres to reduce their running cost per kilometre, most of these tyres are retreaded up to three times.
Added to this, a further 200000 reusable casings are imported for retreading each year.
Zarrebini likens the tyre retreading process to grating cheese. After inspection, the remaining rubber on a tyre casing is grated away in preparation for the addition of a new rubber tread.
“The initial grate is coarse, but the closer to the tread base you get, the finer the resulting grate becomes. The grated rubber is known as buffing and it’s this buffing that’s either resold to recyclers or disposed of in landfills.”
As this rubber and used truck tyres degrade extremely slowly, this poses an enormous environmental hazard.
“We have a full manufacturing programme, and because we sell all the crumb that we produce, we’ve been under significant pressure to increase capacity. Our primary focus is on sustainability and developing products manufactured from recycled materials.
“This latest investment is in line with that and also provides us with an opportunity to diversify further and create additional revenue streams,” Zarrebini says.
Rubber crumb produced from used radial truck tyres is used by the Van Dyck Floors factory in Durban for the manufacture of rubber flooring, paving, interlocking rubber mats and acoustic underlays for carpets which are exported to 50 countries across the world.
Mathe Group also has a wide customer base that buys rubber crumb for use as an infill for sports fields utilising artificial grass, for inclusion in modified bitumen for road resurfacing, and for the manufacture of non-slip paint and ballistics equipment.
The new plant, which was sourced in China and delivered this month, will be commissioned next month. It is expected to double output and create at least 10 new jobs.
“Ours will be the first facility to process both whole tyres and retread for various industries including Van Dyck Carpets’ factory. We’ll also look to market these products to new clients in a similar manner as we did when we started the tyre-recycling facility,” Zarrebini said.
Zarrebini said Mathe Group would source rubber retread waste nationally.
However, although up to 60% of tyre retreading takes place in Gauteng and just 15 to 20% in KwaZulu-Natal, it will initially try to maximise sourcing product from its home province in order to minimise the company’s environmental footprint.