One of South Africa’s largest tyre recyclers is servicing new markets in Australia and Korea thanks to the two steel by-products it has developed from the used truck tyres it recycles.

Dr Mehran Zarrebini, head of British investment group PFE International which is one of the major shareholders in the Hammarsdale-based Mathe Group, says that up until now, the focus has been on producing large quantities of rubber crumb. This is used to manufacture acoustic products, rubber flooring and used to resurface roads and provide infill for sports fields.

However, approximately 27% of each 68 kg truck tyre is hi-tensile steel. As the plant consumes more and more tyres, the steel output also grows.

Turning steel waste into worth

Until recently, the majority of the high tensile steel was removed using magnets during the shredding process and then loaded into in shipping containers and trucked to the Durban port.

Recent investment in a debeading machine that removes the main steel rim from the tyres ahead of the crumbing process has resulted in an additional steel by-product that can be on-sold.

Mathe Group also developed its own baling machine which it has now commissioned. This compacts the steel removed from the radial tyres that are placed in each shipping container. Compacting the steel enables larger quantities to be loaded into each container.  As a result, each container holds approximately 20 tons of used steel for recycling.

Clean steel secures the market

Zarrebini says that demand is growing not only because countries like Korea which have large car and ship building industries have an ever growing need for high tensile steel but also because their product is particularly clean.

“Clean steel which has the least amount of rubber is far easier to process. We have less than four percent rubber contamination in our product, making is far easier to process than steel sourced from elsewhere in the world,” he says.

Zarrebini says that PFE International plans to continue investing in plant that will drive up efficiencies and increase throughput of used radial truck tyres that are delivered to the Hammarsdale plant daily.