For most organisations, committing to a range of recycling initiatives has become standard practice. But for New Zealand’s only rubber crumb plant based in Upper Hutt, recycling and environmental sustainability is fundamental to its success. Rubber Solutions’ has stayed true to its original reason for being: to make the most of old tyres – tyres that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Co-directors, Andrew Melbourne and Steve Matthews, have made it their business to source rubber shavings from worn-out truck tyres. The rubber shavings are processed in a custom-built machine to produce tonnes of black rubber crumbs, ground to different sizes for different uses.

“Rubber is a really valuable resource with numerous qualities,” Andrew explains. “It can, and should be, used in productive ways.”

While some of the company’s rubber crumb is used in roads, special grades are in high demand for: artificial sports fields; horse arenas; playgrounds; and tiling and sealants for flooring.

“Of course our business needs to make a profit but making a difference to our environment is really important too.” Four million tyres are replaced on vehicles in New Zealand every year but limited options for processing them in New Zealand means many are shredded and dumped. Andrew says, “Turning redundant rubber into an ingredient that can be used to make new products can only have a positive impact on our environment.”

Fortunately, using rubber crumb in roads has become international best practise and is a mandatory ingredient for roads in many countries. Rubber Solutions is heartened by its Australian clients such as Sydney’s transport authorities. “We have shipped more than 600 metric tonnes to Australia over the last two to three years. They reap the benefits of mixing finely ground rubber crumbs with bitumen. It makes the roads 30 per cent quieter for motorists,” Andrew explains, “and it lasts 30 to 40 per cent longer so fewer repairs are needed. The cost savings are significant.”

Unfortunately, Rubber Solutions’ ultimate aim – which is to see rubber crumb used on New Zealand’s roads – is its biggest challenge.

Andrew and Steve continue to make their case to New Zealand’s Ministries for the Environment, the NZ Transport Agency, and various roading companies but so far to no avail. “The lifecycle of tyres is a real problem for the government – they have commissioned multiple studies to solve it and while the results and advice are promising for us, they refuse to act on them. We know our product is viable. Dealing with the bureaucracy is really frustrating.”

Ongoing collaborations and new market opportunities are welcome distractions. “Every week we or someone comes up with a new idea e.g. mixing limestone with rubber on the East Cape. Or dead coral with rubber in Kiribas,” Andrew explains. Over the years, Rubber Solutions has worked with and supplied rubber crumb to more than one company developing shock pads for use in the construction of artificial sports fields. This development is ongoing. The shock pads will replace the hard surface usually used and reduce the impact on players’ bodies.

One of its neighbouring businesses in Upper Hutt is combining rubber crumb and foam to make carpet underlay. Andrew says optimistically and proudly, “If we can supply local businesses with rubber crumb as an alternative and recycled ingredient, and if that results in a superior product to an imported one, we all win – Upper Hutt and our environment!”

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Last updated on 21 Mar 2018