On the North-Eastern corner of the Arabian Peninsula lies a city where the number of scrap tyres outnumbers the local population over 3:1.
Each year, new swathes are dug into the sand outside of Kuwait City to accommodate hundreds of thousands of scrap tyres brought in from abroad. Estimates vary, but the last official figure was that over 7,000,000 scrap tyres are currently housed in Sulaibiya. The dump is so large that it can be seen from space.
The environmental impact of a tyre graveyard is monumental. The toxic & potentially carcinogenic chemicals that leak from these tyres endanger both the planet & the local population. Further and greater risks are posed by the threat of fires. The smoke released by the burning of the rubber contains cyanide, carbon monoxide & sulphur.
In 2012, 5 million tyres were deliberately set ablaze by a fire in another Kuwaiti tyre dump. The local population was spared by sheer good fortune in that the wind blew the hazardous smoke across the Gulf. The blaze was so large that NASA released a report on it.
The idea of storing tyres in the country that has recorded the second hottest temperature of all time (54 degrees) must also be questioned. Whilst the city-state of Kuwait has the largest single tyre dump in the world, it is a far cry from other countries in terms of volume of scrap tyre. The United States of America has anywhere between 2 - 3 billion tyres in landfill. The risk to public health, as well as the environment, is palpable.
We have long since debated the risks of hazardous substances and waste. Tyre storage and landfill sites do not have the same security services in comparison to the likes of nuclear energy and chemical waste disposal. However, when we consider the risk of cyanide & carbon monoxide reaching urban areas in the guise of thick plumes of smoke, it is time to change this narrative.
Tyres are infamously hard to break down and recycle, however, a future without tyres in landfill is possible. With BIG ATOM’s proposal to create a circular economy starting with a ‘green’ tyre, this narrative is just beginning. The future of recycling raw materials that are the main components of a tyre, should not just be our goal but a common one. Imagine the possibility of using the same oil & steel to create each individual tyre to manufacture new ones. However, this is a conversation that needs to be about education, rather than a diktat released to compel garages and automotive companies to give their used tyres to BIG ATOM or equivalents.
BIG ATOM encourages all those who need to recycle scrap tyres to do so responsibly and investigate what exactly it is that the current collector does with them. Will they end up burnt, in our oceans or landfill? Or can we possibly use them to create a more efficient & sustainable planet?