Used tyres, which are highly durable and non-biodegradable are a problematic source of pollution. When dumped and left lying there, they tend to trap methane gas, harbour vermin and provide quite a suitable breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
By Chipo Masara
Owing to the heavy metal and other pollutant materials found in tyres, they also pose the danger of leaching toxins into groundwater, rendering it unsafe for consumption.
Because old tyres that have seen better days and no longer suitable for use on vehicles remain a source of good rubber, they can be recycled; but the recycling process requires newer technologies such as de-vulcanisation and pyrolysis, among others.
For instance, some students at Ohio University in the United States invented de-vulcanisation technologies that allowed them to recycle spent tyre rubber via de-vulcanisation into re-vulcanisable rubber, as well as processing old tyres with other fuel sources such as biomass or coal, for power generation as well as for generation of liquid transportation fuels, among other uses.
These are processes, however, that require new improved technologies that desolate and financially-troubled countries like Zimbabwe can currently only dream of.
Zimbabwe is a country with a huge amount of vehicles that require an equally huge amount of tyres to run. However, with most of the country’s roads littered with potholes, the rate at which tyres wear and tear — thereafter requiring replacement — is quite fast. This has inevitably led to the stockpiling of old tyres.
It is not uncommon to see tyre traders piling old tyres and burning them outdoors — a process that unfortunately creates an ugly black smoke that contains toxic compounds (due in part to the oil and other products used in manufacturing tyres). Besides being a total waste of a source of good rubber, this process deposits into the atmosphere more greenhouse gases that continue to deplete the ozone layer and are triggering climate change.
But often, people resort to burning tyres because they simply are not aware of what other use they could be besides being an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Because of their bulkiness, if there was to be an attempt to dispose them in landfills, used tyres would take up very big spaces. With the country facing monumental waste management challenges, it is unfathomable that Zimbabwe’s authorities tasked with managing waste would be willing, or able, to handle a used tyre problem.
But thanks to the enterprising and entrepreneurial spirit inculcated into Zimbabweans — in most instances in a bid to eke a living — dumping used tyres may soon be a thing of the past as they are fast being re-purposed in a way that gives them a new life.
Working in her garage, Monalisa Musenge — with help from her husband Prince — is breathing new life into used tyres and turning them into spectacular pieces of art. Having named their newly-started venture Freeworld Designs, the couple has the dream of taking as many tyres off the streets as they possibly can as they continue to work on building their brand.
Musenge said the dream was born when she noticed the amount of tyre-burning that went on at an industrial area located near her son’s school. It got her worrying about the pollution the schoolchildren would be exposed to every time the used tyres were burnt.
While they started by making just flower pots from used tyres, they have expanded into making tables, lamps, ottomans, dog beds, planters, among other creative designs that would brighten any home — all made from used tyres.
Although like any business that is just starting, Freeworld Designs is facing a number of challenges, chief among them the unavailability of better equipment to help make the job easier, Musenge has the dream of turning the venture into a successful family business that will in the future grow to also incorporate plastic recycling, while also providing employment.
Such is the passion the family has not only to make money and create a brand for themselves, but to help save the environment while at it — qualifying them under the list of the country’s environmental heroes that need to be hailed.
Like the Musenge family, there are many others that are involved in small ventures that help get used tyres off the streets. These are using old tyres as a source of rubber used in making things such as sandals, beads, shoes and many other creative pieces of art.
While it may not yet be practical to talk of Zimbabwe recycling the bulky used tyres when the country is finding it a challenge to recycle easier materials like polystyrene, people like Musenge through their work are ensuring the country does not have a used tyre problem to worry about.
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