Unchecked tyre recycling units wreak environmental havoc

Only 46% of tyre pyrolysis oil units in the country comply with norms

By Divyansh Upadhyay
Published: Monday 14 November 2022

Only 46 per cent of tyre pyrolysis oil (TPO) units in the country comply with existing pollution norms, a recent report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found. This number is enormous and an eye-opener for all of us on how small-scale industries operate in our country.

TPO units recycle tyres to produce oil and gas. Basically, the tyres are thermally degraded in the absence of oxygen in the reactors at a high temperature (500⁰C to 800⁰C). The oil or gas can be used as fuel in cement, ceramic and other industries. 

These industries emit cancer-causing pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), dioxin, furans and oxides of nitrogen and are incredibly harmful to human health and the environment.

Read more: New technique may help recycle used tyres

The absence of proper management of end-of-life or waste tyres was highlighted by a National Green Tribunal (NGT) order dated April 25, 2019.

Polluting TPO units are running “throughout India unchecked, resulting in serious damage to the environment,” alleged environmental protection organisation Social Action for Forest & Environment (SAFE). 

“Instead of processing tyres illegally, concepts like extended producer responsibility and advanced recycling charges need to be evolved,” SAFE added. 

The NGT sought a report from CPCB about compliance with rules on the subject and the remedial measures required, considering the tribunal’s April 25, 2019, order. 

“There is a need for the study about the siting criteria, the threshold limit of a plant, carrying capacity, standards for effluents, emissions and hazardous or other waste and monitoring mechanism, preferably with larger samples size, which may preferably be 10 per cent of the total plants,” said another NGT order dated October 25, 2021. 

“The monitoring needs to be more extensive and should cover all the categories of TPO units — Red, Orange, Green or White and an appropriate standard operating procedure (SOP) needs to be issued in view of the potential for damage to the environment from the hazardous activities,” the order added.

CPCB had asked all the State Pollution Boards (SPCBs) and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) to conduct inspections in TPO units states across the country in pursuance of the NGT order. 

It compiled a report from 17 states where tyre pyrolysis units exist and submitted it to the NGT. There are 757 tyre pyrolysis oil units.

Around 349 units comply with the consent conditions and SOP of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The remaining 213 units are non-compliant (28 per cent) and 192 units are closed (25 per cent). 

Uttar Pradesh has the maximum number of units (148), followed by Haryana (101), Rajasthan (95) and Maharashtra (85). 

Rajasthan has the highest number of closed units. Out of 60 closed ones, 35 were closed by the Rajasthan State Pollution Control Board and the remaining 25 units were self-closed.

CPCB issued directions to the SPCBs and to the PCCs to close down the non-complying units in all the states.

Formulation of a new SOP 

CPCB consulted the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI, Pune) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Delhi) to develop an SOP, Recycling of Waste Tyre Scrap for production of Tyre Pyrolysis Oil. 

The agency also studied the existing guidelines of SPCBs in the context of TPO units and considered the detailed study of seven TPO units and 70 TPO units with the help of the SPCBs concerned.

CPCB also considered the recommendations by SAFE, which was the petition in the case and circulated the SOP on the website for receiving the comments and shared it with the MoEFCC for finalisation.

“Action has been taken against the number of non-compliant units, but there still remains a gap and such gaps need to be bridged at the earliest in the interest of the rule of law and good environmental governance,” said the latest NGT order dated November 7, 2022. 

“TPOs need to follow Zero Liquid Discharge and Zero Emission norms and the carbon produced during the process needs to be utilised in cement industries and the carbon material should not be simply transported to landfills,” the order said. 

CPCB may finalise the classification of the units so that application norms can be enforced, the order added. The revised SOP may also certify the fuel quality standards of pyro-oil as per norms of the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Read more: Government, contractors not reusing old tyres for the love of money: Experts

“It’s time to come up with innovative solutions to reduce pollution in small-scale industries,” said Nivit Yadav, director industrial pollution unit at non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

These industries are located inside the villages and are operated during late-night hours and it becomes difficult for the regulators to visit there, he added. 

“A compliance mechanism in such sectors should be people-centric so that the gaps can be bridged and good environmental governance can be maintained,” he further said.

The pollution from such small-scale industries in our country is unaccounted for and there is no mechanism to keep track of them. Around 54 per cent of the TPO units in the country are non-complying or closed. 

With such high impacts, such industries cannot be allowed to operate under the pretext of being a small-scale sector. 

A road map is required to reduce the pollution from such sectors. It should include the use of new technologies, installation of air pollution control devices, use of cleaner fuels and cleaner production methodologies.

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