Belts, Conveyors, Recycling

How conveyor belts contribute to the circular economy

Conveyor belts are typically destined for the scrap heap. Australia’s tyre stewards want to find ways to turn used conveyor belts into new products.

Conveyor belts are typically destined for the scrap heap. Australia’s tyre stewards want to find ways to turn used conveyor belts into new products.

Tyre Stewardship Australia (TSA) wants to change how the bulk handling industry thinks about, plans for and manages conveyor belts once they reach the end of their life.  

Many companies have limited incentives to recycle their waste into value-added products, which increases landfill and on-site waste. Conveyor belts come with a unique set of safe handling and recycling challenges that make recovery that much harder.

An estimated 60,000 to 85,000 tonnes of waste conveyor belts are generated each year across Australia, with less than 1 per cent of conveyor belts being recycled – the majority are stockpiled, buried on-site at mines, or sent to landfill. 

It’s no surprise to anyone in the industry that conveyor belts are not
being recycled. Their length, structure and weight mean they often can’t be handled by existing equipment on site, and their composition can be embedded with steel cords and fibres that can damage standard recycling equipment built for tyres.

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The Australian Government has sent a strong message to the market– It’s time to get serious about a circular economy for Australia’s rubber products. Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek added tyre products to the waste priority lists in October 2022, emphasising that if the industry doesn’t act the government will. Just recently the WA Government has been selected to develop the framework to guide inter-jurisdiction efforts and take action on problematic products like off the road (OTR) products. TSA will support the WA Government to develop the framework.

Tyre Stewardship Australia wants to work with the bulk handling industry to find out how worn-out conveyor belts can contribute to Australia’s circular economy. 

TSA CEO Lina Goodman is positive that by working together with the conveyor belt sector, solutions can be found to recover the valuable resources in used conveyor belts.

“There’s so much we can achieve by bringing together conveyor belt management and disposal knowledge from people who deal with it every day, and our experience in rubber recycling in Australia,” she said.

“We are establishing a working group with experts in conveyor belt manufacturing, importing, handling and disposal to create and test ways to get conveyor belts recycled, and are looking for conveyor belt boffins to come and join us.”

Goodman believes Australia risks being left behind if industries, like bulk handling, don’t go all in, on recycling. 

 “We’re now looking at a huge opportunity to step up and become the world leaders in recovering and recycling off-the-road rubber products, including mining and agriculture tyres and conveyor belts, ” Goodman said.

“Many countries are already moving into this market, and if we sit on our hands now, we will be left behind.”

Goodman said landfill or on-site burial could no longer be considered reasonable options for used conveyor belts. 

“Times have changed, and what we did in the past is no longer good enough. ”  

Used rubber products, like conveyor belts, can be re-manufactured into high-performing infrastructure and construction materials with innovations like crumb rubber asphalt, and permeable pavement, as well as Australian innovations like blast and ballistic concrete. The addition of rubber materials provides numerous benefits including flexibility, durability, and reduced carbon emissions.

More products are coming to market which use rubberised elements to improve products, which Tyre Stewardship Australia hopes to increase going forward.

A recent crash test at Lardner Park in Victoria showcased how rubberised concrete barriers (made with rubber from used tyres), can add economic and performance value to traditional products.  The crash test showed the Rubber T-Lok barriers improved performance by decreasing impact severity and other safety benefits, and economic value by increasing the life span compared to traditional concrete barriers. 

Goodman said further innovations needed to be encouraged by multiple partners across industry, government, and business.

Tyre Stewardship Australia hopes more bulk-handling companies will join in its efforts to advance Australia’s circular economy and take action to promote the recovery of OTR products at the end of their life. 

Goodman said with collaboration and commitment, recycling conveyor belts could become a reality.

“There is no quick fix, but now is the time to step up, take action and stop throwing away the valuable resources in used conveyor belts”. 

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