South Africa's Used tire recycling market

Dr. Mehran Zarrebini, CEO of Van Dyck and Mathe Group

Dr. Mehran Zarrebini

CEO of Van Dyck & mathe Group

Dr. Mehran Zarrebini, CEO of Van Dyck and Mathe Group, shared insights on how his company is recycling used tires in South Africa to manufacture global products. He mentioned that the major obstacle to getting a waste management license in South Africa has been removed. He also stressed the importance of educating the market to achieve growth. Lastly, he pointed out that shipping within the southern African region is still expensive. Dr. Zarrebini is the CEO of both Mathe Group and Van Dyck. The Mathe Group processes radial truck tires and produces rubber crumbs, while Van Dyck transforms the rubber crumbs into various products for secondary industries.

Acquisition of Mathe Group

In 2016, we were producing soft flooring and were searching for ways to incorporate recycled content. That’s when we discovered rubber crumbs, which had limited recyclers in South Africa at the time. Initially, we imported the material from France, which was not practical due to the environmental impact and transportation costs. Fortunately, we found a new company, led by Mr. Mathe, located close to our premises in Kwazulu-Natal. We collaborated and developed successful new products, but Mr. Mathe’s company couldn’t handle the volume of rubber crumbs we required. As a result, we decided to form a joint venture in 2016, investing in new plants and machinery to increase our capacity. This partnership has been a great success.

South Africa’s Waste Tires

In South Africa, many tires are discarded annually, resulting in the unfortunate consequence of dumping them in landfills and disadvantaged areas. This has a significant environmental impact on the local communities. To combat this, the government established a tire waste management plan that addresses the logistical challenge of transporting the tires to recycling facilities. As a result, processing these tires into rubber crumbs became our primary focus, while the government handled the logistics of transporting them to our factory.

Focus on used truck tires.

In South Africa, many types of tires are available, including mining, passenger, and truck tires. Our focus is primarily on processing truck tires in our plant, as they have low fibre and high steel content, making them easier to separate. This allows us to generate very little waste, and any fibre content we have is processed into our products.

Many of our clients prefer crumbs derived from truck tires due to their higher rubber and lower chemical content. Additionally, as a supplier to the sports industry, we must be careful with respect to toxicology and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon tests. Using a consistent source of tires allows us to ensure that the chemical content is standard and meets our strict requirements.

Products we manufacture from recycled tires 

We produce acoustic underlay for use under timber floors or luxury vinyl planks. Our patented product, the acoustic cradle, is extensively used in the United Kingdom and is being developed in South Africa. We’ve also exported to Senegal. The cradle is like a mini table that can be inverted, allowing battens to run underneath for cabling. The flooring on top can be varied in height, which reduces installation time and costs.

We also manufacture artificial sports systems, including floor projects for hockey dugouts and gyms. Our products have been used in CrossFit gyms, home gyms, and commercial gyms. Additionally, we provide walking areas around shopping centers and playground systems. Our rubber flooring is ideal for critical fall heights, ensuring children can fall safely onto a soft surface instead of shock pads and artificial grass on second floors.

We also work for the equestrian industry, where we use rubber in both stables and various arena settings where horses can hurt themselves. The industry is highly costly, and any damage can have substantial financial consequences.

We’ve also looked at other innovative areas. And one of the areas that we’ve developed is ballistics shooting blocks manufactured from recycled rubber crumbs. We’ve made Lego-type pieces which can build up a back wall as a backstop for shooting ranges. The police force uses this for training and various indoor recreational shooting ranges in South Africa.

Other product alternatives

Our processing plant was originally set up to supply rubber crumbs for our use, but we soon discovered that we had a surplus capacity. This led us to explore other industries, such as the bitumen asphalt and sports industries, which could benefit from our products. Rubber crumbs are used as an infill layer in artificial grass for soccer pitches, but due to health concerns, this practice is declining.

We have established strong relationships with customers in the road development and rehabilitation industry, with whom we work closely to create tailored products. In South Africa, the road system is constantly expanding due to the region’s reliance on road transportation for freight.

In the sports industry, we have seen many projects in the SADC region, with FIFA sponsoring development projects in African countries. We hope our rubber crumbs will continue to play a role as infill material in these projects.

We have invested in capital equipment to manufacture unique products that were previously imported or produced on a smaller scale. This will increase demand for rubber crumbs and help address environmental concerns.

Export Markets

Our company exports to countries in the SADC region, such as Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Swaziland. We also export to Tanzania and Kenya. We are exploring opportunities to expand our export markets, but face competition from countries like Dubai and China in East Africa. As a result, our focus is primarily on the SADC region.

UK markets

We have formed a strategic partnership with a British company that specializes in acoustics and has a strong position in the construction industry. Our company creates unique patented products for them, which are exported to over 40-50 countries, including South Africa and the UK. Our acoustic underlay is designed to be used beneath hard flooring and offers significant noise reduction benefits. This makes it ideal for high-rise buildings and other environments where noise abatement is required by law.

In addition, we are also manufacturing magnetic underlay that will significantly reduce the time and cost of floor installations. The magnetic tabs allow the flooring to be directly adhered to the underlay, making it easy to remove and replace if necessary. This is particularly useful if the product is damaged, as it can be removed without replacing the entire flooring. We are currently working on developing this product further.

Regulations

At the beginning of our journey, we faced strict requirements due to South Africa’s tight environmental laws. Obtaining a waste management license, a significant obstacle for new players in the market, took us nearly six to eight months, even though we were already recycling at the time. However, several significant changes since 2016 have made it much easier for anyone willing to establish themselves as a tire recycler. One must register with the Waste Bureau, which is currently managing the plan. The major barrier to entry for new players has been removed, and the process is now more straightforward.

Challenges

We are currently facing a significant challenge in shipping materials across the country, as it incurs high costs that sometimes exceed the actual cost of the raw material. Logistics is a considerable challenge, especially when moving products within the SADC region. European manufacturers often present competition due to subsidies that make shipping products from Europe into Africa easier and cheaper than our exports to neighbouring countries. This is one of the challenges we are currently facing.

Another challenge is trying to develop the market. Many clients are accustomed to using the same products they’ve used for the past 20 years. It’s our job to create awareness and marketing material that encourages them to switch to new products. Fortunately, environmentally conscious customers often prefer recycled and sustainable products that can be recycled again after their useful life. We’ve focused on that angle for the past couple of years.

Barrier to entry 

Importing equipment into the country is one of the biggest challenges faced by South African businesses. The costs are very high, and it takes a long time to recover those funds through return on investment. This is unlike more mature markets such as Canada, the US, or Europe. The high costs act as a huge barrier to entry, which prevents many people from entering the market. Moreover, the market is in its infancy, so there is no pipeline of customers, and demand is not always there. To finance such a level of equipment, it is often necessary to demonstrate that there is demand. This is not always easy, so it is a major processing challenge.

In the secondary industry, from a product perspective, it is largely about gaining confidence in the market that these products are complementary and can substitute many other products. There are some benefits besides the environmental benefits, such as paving from a transportation perspective. They are often lighter than concrete pavers, which makes transport costs lower. We have to focus on educating our customers about the benefits of these aspects, but it is sometimes a challenge.

Competition

In my opinion, the issue lies with the demand. If there were more demand for rubber crumbs, and more companies and industries utilized them for industrial purposes beyond just football fields and playgrounds, such as construction, it could expand and develop the industry. Increased competition can drive innovation and differentiation in the market. Therefore, if demand for rubber crumbs increased, more players would likely enter the industry.

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