The world runs on tyres, and they are masterpieces of modern technology. But even tyre enthusiasts like ourselves have to admit that they’re not the most sustainable product. The race is on to produce a tyre that’s safe, performs well, and causes less damage to our health and the planet.
Back in January, Car and Driver magazine published an article about Goodyear’s new ‘90% sustainable tyre’, revealed at an electronics show (of all places). The tyre has passed the US regulatory tests, but for the moment it’s for demonstration purposes. Goodyear are still figuring out the market demand. Even so, Goodyear are pressing ahead with production with a slightly less ambitious ‘70% sustainable tyre’, which could be appearing on some markets this year.
What does 90% and 70% sustainable mean? We’ll get to that in a bit (please note that’s our designation, not Goodyear’s), but first, there’s a bigger question.
How much does tyre sustainability matter?
Judging from the tone of the Car and Driver article, the answer is ‘not very much’. There’s a joke about Goodyear’s cafeteria menu in there (“We hope you’re excited about three meals of tofu a day stretching into eternity”), as if this is some sort of fruitcake project put in place by a rogue vegan team within the company.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the issue of tyre pollution is pretty darned serious. A Guardian article from 2020 explains why:
More than 200,000 tonnes of tiny plastic particles are blown from roads into the oceans every year, according to research.
The study suggests wind-borne microplastics are a bigger source of ocean pollution than rivers, the route that has attracted most attention to date. The analysis focused on the tiny particles produced by tyres and brake pads as they wear down.
It estimated that 550,000 tonnes of particles smaller than 0.01mm are deposited each year, with almost half ending up in the ocean. More than 80,000 tonnes fall on remote ice- and snow-covered areas and may increase melting as the dark particles absorb the sun’s heat.
We know this stuff isn’t good for marine life. We know it gets into the food chain. Nobody really knows what windblown microplastics do to human health, but chances are that it’s not good.
Tyre sustainability just moved up the agenda
There’s a great big reason why tyre sustainability just got more pressing: the rise of the electric vehicle.
The heavier the car, the more quickly its tyres wear. Over the same period of time, heavier cars chew through tyres faster (other factors being equal), which equates to more tyre pollution. And as we all know, EVs are heavy.
So as EVs start to dominate car sales, the tyre pollution problem becomes even more pressing. But even without EVs, the trend towards heavier cars has been happening for decades – just look at how a model like the VW Golf has become lardier since its inception.
The EU steps in
Whatever you think about the EU, it’s had a fundamental role in reducing pollution from our cars. According to the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders): “It would take 50 new cars today to produce the same amount of pollutant emissions as one vehicle built in the 1970s.”
OK, improving technology would have achieved some of that anyway, but the EU’s emission standards have given motor manufacturers a powerful shove towards producing less polluting materials.
The latest EU emission standards, Euro 7, addresses the tyre microplastics issue head-on. For the first time, the amount of particulates that tyres can shed will be regulated for new cars.
You’ve probably seen that an alliance of car-producing countries — spearheaded by Germany — has challenged the EU’s emission goals and are forcing some concessions. However, these relate to getting exemptions for cars running on so-called carbon-neutral fuels. As far as we know, they’re not challenging the tyre section of the proposed legislation.
What happens to the EU doesn’t stay in the EU
You may have notced that we’re no longer in the EU… but the likelihood is that the legislation will still affect us. For a start, any sustainable tyres developed for EU customers are bound to find theur way here. And secondly, there’s a fair proportion of the public who won’t want to be exposed to more pollution just because they’re on this side of the channel.
How powerful the legislation is remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that the race is on for truly sustainable tyres. And that leads to back to Goodyear…stay tuned for Part Two next time!
The BK Tyres blog carries news, views and information on tyres and related subjects. BK Tyres supplies and fits tyres throughout South Oxfordshire, including the communities of Abingdon, Didcot and Henley on Thames. As an independent, family run mobile provider, we provide exceptional levels of service and affordable prices. Contact us today.