The Northern Ireland Assembly has been dissolved. The election will take place on Thursday 5 May 2016.

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 19 April 2012

Reference: NIA 11/11-15

ISBN: 978-0-339-60422-3

Mandate Number: 2011/15

Committee: Environment

Download the full report.

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings, Minutes of Evidenceand Written Submissions Relating to the Report

Executive Summary


On 23 June 2011 the Committee for the Environment agreed to conduct an inquiry into the management of used tyres in Northern Ireland. The Committee sought evidence from a wide range of stakeholders which included asking councils to indicate the nature and severity of any issues they had with used tyres, if these had changed over the years and what measures they had taken to address them.

Shortly after the Committee announced its inquiry, the Department for the Environment indicated that it would be initiating a Waste Data Survey to update its information on the numbers of tyres arising in Northern Ireland and their disposal. The Committee agreed to defer making final recommendations until after the Department had completed its survey and instead agreed to produce an interim report and make draft recommendations once it had completed gathering evidence.

This interim report sets out the Committee's consideration of evidence and its draft recommendations.

Legal framework for the collection, storage and disposal of used tyres and how this is monitored and enforced by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency

Much, if not all, of the necessary legislation is in place to underpin the proper management of used tyres in Northern Ireland. However, many waste tyres are handled illegally because they have the potential to generate financial benefit for those involved. For those ignorant of the law or indifferent to it, lack of enforcement undermines the current Duty of Care approach.

Proper adherence to the current legal framework for the collection, storage and reprocessing of end of life tyres is costly and protracted. The system of awarding a waste carrier's licence quickly without much scrutiny until the more rigorously assessed application for a Waste Management Licence is awarded can be easily exploited. The current rationale allowing some businesses to operate under an exemption from the Waste Management Licence in relation to used tyres should also be revisited.

It would appear NIEA tends to focus its resources on monitoring compliance rather than targeting illegal operators and has not supported council initiatives to improve management of tyres in local areas.

The Department needs to finalise and implement its flytipping protocol for councils. NIEA needs to develop a risk-based approach to enforcement, work more closely in partnership with local authorities and the PSNI during the licensing process and when monitoring compliance. It also needs to ensure that the application period for a Waste Management Licence is not used for unscrupulous activity and to review and update exemptions to Waste Management Licences.

Current audit trail for managing tyres from purchase through to disposal and key responsibilities at critical stages

The UK operates a free market system where the legislation sets objectives but does not identify who in the tyre recovery chain should be responsible for waste tyres. In Northern Ireland, as in the rest of the UK, tyre retailers can charge an environmental disposal charge on customers for the disposal of used tyres but the Department has no statutory remit or powers with respect to a tyre recycling charge. There is no audit trail of charges levied, presentation of the charge on invoices is variable and there is no information that allows the customer to know how the charge is being used. The Department does not hold information on the amount of money generated by charges but suggests that it could potentially be £1.8-£3.6 million annually. Evidence suggests that environmental disposal charges in Northern Ireland are higher than those in the rest of the UK except South West England.

Obtaining licences to carry tyres legally is too easy and the Department does not have the resources to conduct sufficient checks prior to waste carrier licences being issued or carry out compliance checks afterwards. Successful management of used tyres depends on rigorous and well resourced enforcement but better communication could also play a key role.

The impracticalities of tyre marking mechanisms to facilitate the proper management of used tyres across Northern Ireland make them unlikely to feature in the near future.

The Office of Fair Trading should be asked to investigate discrepancies between the levies charged by tyre retailers in Northern Ireland and those in other regions. NIEA should conduct compliance checks before issuing licences to carry tyres, monitor holders and publish a list of currently licenced re-processors on its website updating it weekly. NIEA should also raise awareness of the need to manage used tyres properly through a communications campaign.

Comparison of the NI approach to managing used tyres with other approaches

The majority of EU countries operate under a producer responsibility system where tyre 'producers' are responsible for managing end-of-life tyres. Producers are usually defined as any organisation in the tyre chain including manufacturers, retailers, importers and recyclers. Most schemes appear to operate through a collection system requiring the producer, or an organisation on their behalf, to collect the same number of tyres they have produced.

The argument that a producer responsibility scheme would not work in a heavily branded market such as Northern Ireland, is not borne out by experience in other European countries.

The UK, including Northern Ireland, currently operates a free market system where the legislation sets objectives but does not define how these are to be met. This would not appear to be a dependable way of ensuring proper management even when the necessary legislation is in place as its success is reliant on global markets and can be vulnerable to failure during an economic downturn. Experience in England and Wales indicates that voluntary self-auditing schemes can work well for the majority within an industry willing to participate and can free up resources for enforcement bodies to focus on illegal activity. However, they do not do away with the need for effective enforcement.

The Republic of Ireland also allows the free market to operate but the big difference between it and Northern Ireland is that it requires anyone operating in the tyre industry to be registered and submit data to an approved compliance company or the local council.

There are potential risks if two different approaches to used tyre management operate north and south of the border. If a full producer responsibility scheme was introduced in the Republic of Ireland the cost of tyres would be increased to pay for it and this would make tyres in Northern Ireland appear cheaper as a result. Also, as producers would only be responsible for tyres in the Republic of Ireland, many tyres would be reported as coming from Northern Ireland.

The introduction of a producer responsibility scheme should be considered in the long term for better management of used tyres in Northern Ireland but the Department should liaise with the Republic of Ireland when considering any long term approach for dealing with used tyres. In the short term the Department needs to be more proactive in its tracking and enforcement of used tyres including auditing retailers and the Committee believes that making it mandatory for tyre producers in Northern Ireland to register with a compliance scheme would facilitate this. It also believes NIEA should regularly participate in the UK-wide Used Tyre Working Group.

Number of used tyres arising annually in Northern Ireland

There is a high but unknown volume of used tyres arising in Northern Ireland throughout the year. Current Departmental estimates based on previous surveys and Assembly Research papers suggest it is in the region of 30,000 tonnes per year or 1.8 million tyres, nearly double the amount in 2000. Indications are that only 17% of this is actually being recovered.

Significant amounts of used tyres are not being disposed of in a way that meets legal and environmental obligations and while estimates suggest this might be improving it would still seem to be well below the target of the 2006-2020 Waste Management Strategy.

The Department should establish a robust method of quantifying the amount of waste tyres arising in Northern Ireland on an ongoing basis with a clear current indication of what proportion of these are not recovered and utilised on a proper manner. The Department should also require public bodies to quantify and report the number of waste tyres found on their property before making arrangements for their disposal.

Extent of historical stockpiles of used tyres in Northern Ireland and consideration of how these could be incorporated into the established process for managing used tyres

Comparatively little information was presented to the Committee about stockpiles but the evidence provided to the Committee by councils suggests that stockpiling of tyres for, and their use on, bonfires is declining due to proactive initiatives by councils and community groups and no longer presents the major risk associated with tyres. A much more significant risk would now appear to be fires at large stockpiles of tyres.

A small percentage of used tyres remain on farms covering silos but as more farms move towards round bale silage there is a decreasing need for tyres on farms. Those that are, are covered under the Duty of Care Regulations but registered carriers to remove tyres are hard to find.

Councils that still have evidence of stockpiling for bonfires should continue with their endeavours to minimise if not eliminate them and NIEA should be supportive in this task. There needs to be tighter regulation around the most appropriate storage of tyres for disposal but the impact of fluctuations in global markets needs to be taken into account by the enforcement authority when making decisions.

All tyre depots should be required to submit an annual report to NIEA and the Department should conduct adequate policing of tyre depots to ensure all tyres are accounted for. NIEA should publicise licenced carriers on its website and update it regularly and while it would not be necessary for farmers to register with a compliance scheme, they should be required to record the number of used tyres held on their farm on their annual IACS return.

Potential for the development of an environmentally sound, economically viable and self-sustaining end-use market in Northern Ireland (including the consideration of alternative uses for used tyres)

The island of Ireland has a number of tyre recycling and reprocessing facilities with several companies looking to invest over the next few years. However, there are currently only two operating in Northern Ireland.

Indecision and/or a reluctance to be proactive in definition of waste by NIEA would appear to be making it more difficult for existing and potential recycling companies to identify and maximise markets leaving them at a disadvantage compared with their competitors in GB and the Republic of Ireland.

New and better enforcement of existing legislation could improve end-use management of used tyres by ensuring that end-of-life tyres can only be disposed of through authorised/certified disposal routes and the operations of end-of-life transporters, sorters, storage facilities and processing facilities are properly governed.

More research and development is needed into other potential waste tyre outlets such as cement kilns, depolymerisation, incorporation of tyre bales into concrete blocks, artificial reefs and crumb rubber manufacture

Retreading used tyres has become highly specialised and improved technology ensures a safe product. The industry should now endeavour to make the concept of retread tyres more acceptable to the public by developing and marketing accredited retread tyres as an economically viable and safe option.

NIEA should carefully, clearly and quickly identify definitions of end of waste in a proactive rather than reactive way so that recyclers can plan their marketing strategies confidently and respond rapidly to changing global markets.

Download the report here.

Find former MLAs


Locate former MLAs


News and Media Centre


Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly


Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more

Contact information


Contact us for further information about our work.

Contact us