George Monbiot describes how we are shipping our garbage, including old tires, around the world.
We tend to think of the problems caused by cars as being local. Congested roads, dead pedestrians, lousy air quality – they are all very immediate. But as George Monbiot writes in the Guardian, the damage done extends far beyond our borders. A shocking example is the export of old tires to India.
Every month, thousands of tonnes of used tyres leave our ports on a passage to India. There they are baked in pyrolysis plants, to make a dirty industrial fuel. While some of these plants meet Indian regulations, hundreds – perhaps thousands – are pouring toxins into the air, as officials look the other way. When tyre pyrolysis is done badly, it can produce a hideous mix: heavy metals, benzene, dioxins, furans and other persistent organic chemicals, some of which are highly carcinogenic.
There are uses for recycled tire rubber; in the UK they were compressed into blocks of rubber that could be used in road foundations. But the Indian tire burners actually pay more than the British tire pressers.
India suffers one of the world’s worst pollution crises, which causes massive rates of disease and early death. There is no data on the contribution made by tyre pyrolysis plants, but it is doubtless significant. Nor do we know whether British tyres are being burned in plants that are illegal, as our government has failed to investigate this.
Monbiot ties this all into the export of plastics that used to go to China but are now being dumped in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. "There’s a term for this practice: waste colonialism."
Every time we look at a Tesla or read about how electric cars are going to take over the world, we should remember that the damage cars do goes far beyond the exhaust pipe, from the mining needed to wrap a person in two tons of metal, to the concrete needed for them to drive on, and now to the exported pollution that comes from their waste.
It's why we don't just need alternatives to gasoline engines; we need alternatives to driving.