TRA – Red Sea Shipping Crisis Brings New Threat to UK Environment

Britain faces an environmental assault from the illegal disposal of end-of-life tyres as the impact of the Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping come home to roost. With 75% of the UK’s waste tyres heading to the Indian sub- continent via the Red Sea route, the UK government rightly condemns Houthi attacks against commercial shipping, yet at the same time it is failing to address the environmental concerns that arise from this situation, warns the Tyre Recovery Association.

Industry insiders point to the Red Sea shipping crisis as exposing the lethargy of UK’s policy making and a reliance on exports that has been termed ‘environmental colonialism’. Government has been presented with evidence of the misuse of UK baled end-of-life tyres by Indian importers but have taken no action. As ships are diverted via the Cape of Good Hope container rates for the shipment of used tyres have dramatically increased from an average £850 to £2,000. Meanwhile tyre collectors at the lower reaches of the market, commonly operating under a licence known as a T8 exemption, have come to rely on disposing of the tyres they collect by exporting to the Indian sub-continent. These operators have seen the price of the baled tyres they sell for export to the Indian sub-continent fall dramatically as overseas importers refuse to pay the additional surcharges shippers need to cover their increased transport costs.

The last time prices collapsed for these operators there was a significant increase in fly tipping, abandonment and major tyre fires. Such fires can take days to extinguish, involving dozens of firefighters. The noxious smoke can cause travel chaos to road and rail, as well as result in a dangerous reduction in air quality impacting local schools and communities.

T8 exempted operators are limited to storing 40 tonnes of tyre a week, with an average 26 tonnes of tyre making up one container for export, the challenge becomes clear with illegal storage expected to rocket. As unscrupulous end-of-life tyre operators come under pressure, illegal stockpiling will rise, as will fly tipping and illegal abandonment, which includes burning. A cycle of behaviour that will once again damage Britain’s environment looks inevitable, effecting water courses and the air we breathe. Meanwhile the Environment Agency and other enforcement authorities will struggle to keep up with the scale of rule breaking given the challenges already faced in preceding more stable times.

End-of-life tyre recyclers have been frustrated by the Government’s inability to implement the commitment made by the Environment Secretary to end T8 exemptions two years ago. With an election expected this year, a DEFRA letter dated 04 January 2024, from the Minister responsible for land waste has confirmed that this government does not expect to allocate the necessary parliamentary time to curtail the well documented abuse of the T8 exemption in this parliament.

Peter Taylor OBE, Secretary General of the TRA, said: “The crisis in the Red Sea is not just a threat to British people’s ability to buy their clothes from Next, it presents a looming environmental calamity for communities near sites across the country. The TRA has been warning the government that current regulations are inadequate and allow non-compliant waste tyre operators to continue abusing the rules. As Houthi pirates create a strangle hold on shipping routes the full picture of the UK’s end- life-tyre market and its over reliance on Indian sub-continent importers comes into sharp relief.

“Reputational damage to the industry from tyre fires, virtually all of which are at non-permitted sites, causes issue for mainstream permitted operators and the industry at large.

“We have the capacity and capability in the UK to responsibly deal with end-of-life tyres but urgently need the UK’s environmental regulations to catch up.”