Tyre pollution’s unseen impact – and what we can do about it


“Everything seems to be related to the reducing rolling resistance of the tyres,” says Manenti. “It’s all a question of technology: the choice of materials; the manufacture of the tyre and its design from the waterways to the tread blocks. To give you an example, at Bridgestone we have reduced 23 per cent in our tyres’ rolling resistance since 2005.”

Again, this can be a virtuous circle as the increasing polymer content in tyres, which helps reduce rolling resistance, also replaces natural rubber from trees, which has land- and water-use implications.

Complex and contradictory functions

But all tyres are compromises, as Manenti points out. It’s all very well offering the freest rolling tyre in the world, but “can it still keep grip in the wet and build side loadings,” he asks?

“The tyre seems to be a relatively easy matter, doesn’t it? But it’s not only reducing rolling resistance, at the same time the tyre has to keep passengers and the machinery safe and reduce the fuel consumption and reduce the material used to produce it, and that’s from the cradle to the grave.

“It’s a process that is essentially full of contradictions and we don’t always communicate it well to the public.”

Too right the tyre companies haven’t. The public sees tyres as black and round and a distress purchase and even the grandees of the tyre industry haven’t done much but advertise like crazy in a disorderly market where discounts undermine the message – it’s been like that as long as I’ve worked in this industry.

One aspect that might help change things is to mandate a similarly low rolling resistance factor for replacement tyres. Not the same brand, you understand, but of similar environmental performance.

Manenti broadly agrees and says that the industry has been talking to governments about such a system which could be based around eco labelling, a system which has been broadly successful in the home white goods market.

While the details would need to be carefully worked to reduce the loopholes and potential for profiteering, it could work out to the benefit of all.

“I think [it’s] a way to get a little bit closer to the home obligation on original equipment,” he says, before adding, “we should really increase the awareness of people. This is one of the biggest challenges in making sure that tyre quality is not only necessarily synonymous with a big brand, or image, but that there is [also] a huge content in terms of safety and the environment.”

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