The Kritic

‘Environment’ Category

Sea of Tyres

The ever mounting problem of used tyresSource Unknown

Everyone who has had a vehicle for at least a few years has had the necessity to have tyres replaced whether it is replacing one through damage or multiple through wear and tear. But do any of us give a second thought to what happens to the tyre once it leaves your vehicle?

An Australian study by Hyder Consulting Pty Ltd published 30 April 2015[1] states that approximately 51 million equivalent passenger units of tyres entered the waste stream in 2013-14 which equates to around 408,000 tonnes.

Of these, approximately 5% were recovered locally (either through recycling, energy recovery or civil engineering); 32% were exported, of this 32% figure many tyres are burnt in brick and cement kilns in countries that have quite lax air pollution laws like Bangladesh, India and Thailand; approximately 16% went to licensed landfills; and 2% were stockpiled for future recovery. Approximately 14% of end-of-life tyres were categorised as having “unknown” destination, and anecdotal evidence suggests that approximately 31% of Australian tyres (predominantly large, off the road tyres) are land-filled at mining sites. That is approximately 31 million tyres entering landfill over 2013-14.

Every year millions of used tyres are dumped, whether legally or illegally. The cost of dealing with this problem rises to the millions. The dumping of tyres can also lead to severe health hazards and environmental damage.

"Even the smallest number of dumped tyres can create a dangerous breeding ground for mosquitoes that transport disease, such as Dengue Fever and the Ross River Virus."[2]

While controlling Dengue fever is a more complex issue than simply managing our waste tyres, there is little question that Australia’s poor management of waste tyres is a significant contributor. In 2007 Dengue Fever was very much a rare disease in Australia, with just 187 cases in 2007; then by 2010 the rate of infection had increased to 1,171.

Additionally, "Tyres are combustible. Once ignited, they are difficult to extinguish – producing chemical toxins that affect humans, flora, fauna, waterways and the atmosphere. Because of their unique shape and components, once lit, a tyre fire is almost impossible to extinguish."

Undersea Wasteland

In the 1970s, a campaign was organised to dispose of 2 million used tyres into the Atlantic Ocean between two living coral reefs, about a mile off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The intent was to try to provide an aquatic habitat as well as to add to the coral reefs that were already there.

Coastal storms and hurricanes, of which there are numerous off Florida, moved a great quantity of the tyres onto the middle reef, essentially destroying it. In the main area where the tyres were dumped there has been no significant coral growth.

“You get down about 20 feet,” says Army Diver Jason Jakovenko, “and the 34 acre area starts to come into sight… It’s like the moon or something. It’s weird. It doesn’t look like anything you can imagine. It’s just tires for as far as you can see down there.”

The estimated cost for Florida state officials to hire private contractors to remove the tyres was $30 million. Coastal America, a small federal office that is responsible for bringing federal agencies together on large marine projects, brought about the idea to turn this project into a training exercise for the military with the military donating the time and expertise of its divers. This saved the state officials 28 million dollars leaving a need of just 2 million dollars for the transportation and the recycling of the tyres.

The dumping of tyres in the ocean is not unique to Florida or the USA for that matter. Among other countries are Malaysia, Japan, Portugal, France, Israel, Italy, Philippines and Spain.

Queensland University of Technology’s(QUT) Professor Richard Brown says “Globally, 1.5 billion tonnes of tyres are discarded each year. Australia, alone, will generate 55 million disused tyres a year by 2020. “Getting rid of old tyres in an environment-friendly way is a universal nightmare”.

As the world struggles with what to do with end-of-life tyres from cars, trucks and earth moving equipment Australia has been developing and refining a process called destructive distillation to recycle whole tyres. This process also known as pyrolysis occurs when you super-heat tyres in a reactor vessel containing an oxygen-free atmosphere ensuring there is no combustion and therefore no burning.

Pyrolysis reduces the tyres to three main products, Oil, Steel and Carbon Black. A 10kg car tyre yields 4 litres of oil, 1.5kg of steel and 4kg of carbon black. Based on these results using car tyres alone could generate 220 million litres of oil by 2020 just in Australia. The steel remains untouched since it does not get hot enough and is returned to be recycled and used to make new tyres. The high purity carbon is released in powder form, Carbon Black, which steel mills can use as a carbon source, replacing coal or coke in steel manufacturing[3].

The most common use (70%) of carbon black is as a pigment and reinforcing phase in automobile tires. Carbon black also helps conduct heat away from the tread and belt area of the tire, reducing thermal damage and increasing tire life. Carbon black particles are also employed in some radar absorbent materials used in the reduction of the radar cross-section of aircraft and in photocopier and laser printer toner, and other inks and paints. The high tinting strength and stability of carbon black has also provided use in colouring of resins and films. About 20% of world production goes into belts, hoses, and other non-tire rubber goods. The balance is mainly used as a pigment in inks, coatings and plastics. For example, it is added to polypropylene because it absorbs ultraviolet radiation, which otherwise causes the material to degrade. Carbon black has also been used in various applications for electronics. As a good conductor of electricity, carbon black is used as a filler mixed in plastics, elastomer, films, adhesives, and paints. Application of carbon black as an anti-static agent has provided uses as an additive for fuel caps and pipes for automobiles[4].

In addition, the process is emission-free, using recycled oil recovered through the process as the heat source for the production so the only waste generated is heat.

Researcher Farhad Hossain(QUT) said tests conducted on the oil from tyres in 10% and 20% diesel blends. The experiments were performed with constant speed on four different engine loads with no loss of engine performance and a massive reduction in emissions.

QUT’s Professor Richard Brown said they found a 30% reduction in nitrogen oxide which helps to create petrochemical smog and that there was also a reduction by 33% in particle mass. “It is a fuel that is as good as or better than normal diesel… made from old rubber otherwise destined to rot as landfill.”

Green Distillation Technologies facility

Green Distillation Technologies facilitySource Green Distillation Technologies

How do we, as consumers, encourage the use of destructive distillation to recycle end-of-life tyres? Contact your local member of the House of Representatives and let them know that we need to end all practices of disposing of tyres that do not completely recycle the tyre such as with destructive distillation. You can find your local member through the Parliament of Australia website Members Search.

Alternatively you can contact your State Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) and put your concerns in writing either by email or snail mail. Find your state EPA.

[1] Stocks & Fate of End of Life Tyres –
[2] Why Recycle –
[3] Green steel from old rubber tyres produces no waste or toxic fumes – CRC Association –
[4] Carbon Black –

Turtle Straw Nose

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle with straw up its nostrilSource: TKK

The above meme was obviously created to promote the banning of plastic straws. But what of the story behind the photo?[1]

Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team were doing an in-water genetic study research trip in Costa Rica when they came across a male Olive Ridley sea turtle with something protruding from its left nostril. Their initial thinking was that they were looking at a parasitic worm.

After a short debate about what they should do they decided it needed to be removed. The only tool available on their small boat was a small pair of pliers on a Swiss army knife. The decision to remove it was based on:

  1. They were on the ocean
  2. They were in in a developing country a few hours away from the coast
  3. On reaching the coast they would still be several hours away from any vet (probably days from any vet specialised in reptiles, not to mention sea turtles) and an x-ray machine.
  4. They would have incurred a penalty (up to time in gaol) by removing the turtle from its area since it was beyond their research permits.

While trying to remove it they cut a small piece off to investigate it further and discovered that what they were really looking at was a plastic straw!

Below is the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.

*********** WARNING: An expletive or two may be heard! *********

As it shows in the video the plastic straw ended up being about 10cm long and he obviously did not enjoy the procedure. There was quite a bit of blood flowing from his nostril but hopefully he can breath more freely now.

Most likely the turtle ate the straw and then regurgitated it where it ended up in the nasopharyngeal duct and poking out the nasal cavity. In sea turtles the nasopharyngeal duct connects the palate (roof of the mouth) to the nasal cavity.

This video is a great example as to why plastic trash is detrimental to marine life and why plastic straws, specifically, are one of the most superfluous items made out of plastic. Especially if they end up in our oceans.


The Plastic Pollution Coalition

The Plastic Pollution Coalition[2] (PPC) was founded in 2009 and its mission is to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals and the environment as well as to amplify a common message through strategic planning and communication.

With over 500 member organisations and a growing coalition of individuals the PPC seek to increase understanding of the plastic pollution problem and to find sustainable solutions. They aim to empower more people and organisations to take action to stop plastic pollution and to live plastic-free.

The PPC in collaboration with the Texas A&M University’s Christine Figgener and her research team have launched a no straw campaign called “The Last Plastic Straw”.

The Last Plastic Straw

According to The Last Plastic Straw Campaign;[3] "Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone. In only the past twenty years, people have come to expect plastic straws in every drink, in an example of extreme waste being generated for minimal convenience. These short-lived tools are usually dropped into a garbage can with no further thought, instantly becoming a source of plastic pollution."

"The Last Plastic Straw strives to educate the public about the absurdity of single use plastic, its effects on our health, our environment, and our oceans."

They are also promoting a grassroots campaign to encourage all individuals to push for change in bars, restaurants and take-away stores protocol and practices in their local communities around the world.

In Australia there is a similar campaign called “The Last Straw[4] which was founded by Eva Mckinley. Eva’s idea was conceived while she was working in a busy cafe in Hobart, Tasmania where she estimated that 20,000 plastic straws are used each year in that cafe alone. The Last Straw won an award at the Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards[5] in its first year.

The popular tourist town of Blackheath, in the Blue Mountains of NSW, became the world’s first town where all the shopfront businesses agreed to phase out plastic straws. With the town using 40,000 straws per month the 30 local businesses, including cafe owners, the servo, grocers, pubs, takeaway shop and deli, decided it was the most environmentally responsible solution to the problem.

This needs to be more than a trend. This must become an intentional and permanent move for everyone around the world to say “No” to plastic straws. Every time you order a drink politely request “No straw, thanks.” and also encourage your friends and family to do the same.

[1] The “photo is actually a screen grab from the video of the removal of the offending plastic straw.
[2] The Plastic Pollution Coalition –
[3] The Last Plastic Straw –
[4] The Last Straw – http://last
[5] Tasmanian Young Achievers Awards –

Humans have burned 420 billion tonnes of carbon since the start of the industrial revolution. Half of it is still in the atmosphere.

Humans have burned 420 billion tonnes of carbon since the start of the industrial revolution. Half of it is still in the atmosphere.Reuters/Stringer

Getting climate change under control is a formidable, multifaceted challenge. Analysis by my colleagues and me suggests that staying within safe warming levels now requires removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Conversation

The technology to do this is in its infancy and will take years, even decades, to develop, but our analysis suggests that this must be a priority. If pushed, operational large-scale systems should be available by 2050.

We created a simple climate model and looked at the implications of different levels of carbon in the ocean and the atmosphere. This lets us make projections about greenhouse warming, and see what we need to do to limit global warming to within 1.5℃ of pre-industrial temperatures – one of the ambitions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

To put the problem in perspective, here are some of the key numbers.

Humans have emitted 1,540 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide gas since the industrial revolution. To put it another way, that’s equivalent to burning enough coal to form a square tower 22 metres wide that reaches from Earth to the Moon.

Half of these emissions have remained in the atmosphere, causing a rise of CO₂ levels that is at least 10 times faster than any known natural increase during Earth’s long history. Most of the other half has dissolved into the ocean, causing acidification with its own detrimental impacts.

Although nature does remove CO₂, for example through growth and burial of plants and algae, we emit it at least 100 times faster than it’s eliminated. We can’t rely on natural mechanisms to handle this problem: people will need to help as well.

What’s the goal?

The Paris climate agreement aims to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and ideally no higher than 1.5℃. (Others say that 1℃ is what we should be really aiming for, although the world is already reaching and breaching this milestone.)

In our research, we considered 1℃ a better safe warming limit because any more would take us into the territory of the Eemian period, 125,000 years ago. For natural reasons, during this era the Earth warmed by a little more than 1℃. Looking back, we can see the catastrophic consequences of global temperatures staying this high over an extended period.

Sea levels during the Eemian period were up to 10 metres higher than present levels. Today, the zone within 10m of sea level is home to 10% of the world’s population, and even a 2m sea-level rise today would displace almost 200 million people.

Clearly, pushing towards an Eemian-like climate is not safe. In fact, with 2016 having been 1.2℃ warmer than the pre-industrial average, and extra warming locked in thanks to heat storage in the oceans, we may already have crossed the 1℃ average threshold. To keep warming below the 1.5℃ goal of the Paris agreement, it’s vital that we remove CO₂ from the atmosphere as well as limiting the amount we put in.

So how much CO₂ do we need to remove to prevent global disaster?

Are you a pessimist or an optimist?

Currently, humanity’s net emissions amount to roughly 37 gigatonnes of CO₂ per year, which represents 10 gigatonnes of carbon burned (a gigatonne is a billion tonnes). We need to reduce this drastically. But even with strong emissions reductions, enough carbon will remain in the atmosphere to cause unsafe warming.

Using these facts, we identified two rough scenarios for the future.

The first scenario is pessimistic. It has CO₂ emissions remaining stable after 2020. To keep warming within safe limits, we then need to remove almost 700 gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and ocean, which freely exchange CO₂. To start, reforestation and improved land use can lock up to 100 gigatonnes away into trees and soils. This leaves a further 600 gigatonnes to be extracted via technological means by 2100.

Technological extraction currently costs at least US$150 per tonne. At this price, over the rest of the century, the cost would add up to US$90 trillion. This is similar in scale to current global military spending, which – if it holds steady at around US$1.6 trillion a year – will add up to roughly US$132 trillion over the same period.

The second scenario is optimistic. It assumes that we reduce emissions by 6% each year starting in 2020. We then still need to remove about 150 gigatonnes of carbon.

As before, reforestation and improved land use can account for 100 gigatonnes, leaving 50 gigatonnes to be technologically extracted by 2100. The cost for that would be US$7.5 trillion by 2100 – only 6% of the global military spend.

Of course, these numbers are a rough guide. But they do illustrate the crossroads at which we find ourselves.

The job to be done

Right now is the time to choose: without action, we’ll be locked into the pessimistic scenario within a decade. Nothing can justify burdening future generations with this enormous cost.

For success in either scenario, we need to do more than develop new technology. We also need new international legal, policy, and ethical frameworks to deal with its widespread use, including the inevitable environmental impacts.

Releasing large amounts of iron or mineral dust into the oceans could remove CO₂ by changing environmental chemistry and ecology. But doing so requires revision of international legal structures that currently forbid such activities.

Similarly, certain minerals can help remove CO₂ by increasing the weathering of rocks and enriching soils. But large-scale mining for such minerals will impact on landscapes and communities, which also requires legal and regulatory revisions.

And finally, direct CO₂ capture from the air relies on industrial-scale installations, with their own environmental and social repercussions.

Without new legal, policy, and ethical frameworks, no significant advances will be possible, no matter how great the technological developments. Progressive nations may forge ahead toward delivering the combined package.

The costs of this are high. But countries that take the lead stand to gain technology, jobs, energy independence, better health, and international gravitas.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
By Eelco Rohling, Professor of Ocean and Climate Change, Australian National University
Read the original article.