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Strong Retreading Potential in Chinese Tyre Market

Enormous domestic tyre production capacity, a scarcity of domestic rubber supply and increased output prices could be pointing to strong opportunities in China’s tyre retreading business.

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Zhou Linyan, president of China Tyre Retreading, Repairing and Recycling Association (CTRA), recently told reporters that China produced 556 million tyres in 2007. And while many of these are destined for export markets, Chinese motorists are expected to discard 200 million end-of-life tyres in 2010.

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Other CTRA statistics show that the number of end-of-life (ELT) tyres generated by the People’s Republic have skyrocketed in recent years – from 32 million in 2000 to 150 million in 2007. Meanwhile, the raw weight of ELTs increased from 12,000 tons to 3.1 million tons in the same period. While the association predicts China will generate 200 million waste tyres by 2010, the amount of retreading taking place has not yet caught up with the growth in new tyre production and the new tyre to retread rate lies somewhere between 4% and 7% of recovered tyres.

According to the China Economic Network, China’s waste tyre recovery rate is an impressive 90% to 95%. To put this into perspective, ETRMA figures put the European ELT recovery rate at 91%, with the U.K. performing at an above average 95%. Globally, the recycling and reuse rate of waste tyres has increased from between 10% and 15% in 1990 to more than 85% in 2007, China Economic Network reported.

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Looking at these figures in isolation, the outlook for Chinese tyre recyclers and retreaders would appear to be very rosey. The problem is that while waste tyre recovery is comparably high, retreading rates are surprisingly low. So why are retreading rates stuck between 4% and 7%? According to the China Tyre Retreading, Repairing and Recycling Association (CTRA), there are many explanations for the low retreading rate. Amongst them are the following explanations CTRA representatives told China Economic Network.

“Firstly, people know little about waste tyre retreading. Tyre manufacturers mark tyres with wear limit indication in accordance with national standards, but most people neglect it or don’t know about it. [Leaving casings in poor condition]…They don’t even know waste tyres can be retreaded and reused.”

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Another reason is the relatively low level of professionalism amongst the retreading business at large. Apparently, Chinese retreaders’ stereotypical reputation of being “small, messy, and bad” has not improved. On the contrary, China Economic Network reported that the number of small tyre retreading workshops without business licenses has actually rapidly increased in recent years. These less-than-professional retreaders are said to cut corners on retread quality and safety, harming the overall image of retreading.

The third key explanation for underperforming retread rates is the recovery process. Chinese casing sources are known to be inconsistent and retreaders have historically relied on unofficial businesses, which again have been running without business licenses or fixed bases. These collectors apparently don’t realise the value attached to quality casings and so are too often scrapping tyres before they can be assessed for retreadability.

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Government pushing for more retreading regulation
In 2008 the Chinese government launched a series of new industrial standard as a way of improving the state of the domestic retreading segment. For example China introduced two national mandatory standards – Truck Retread (GB9037 – 2007), Passenger Car Retread (GB14646 – 2007) – and the Engineering and Mechanic Retread industrial standard on 1 April 2008. Two more state standards – Reclaimed Rubber (GB/T13460 – 2008) and Sulfurated Rubber Powder (GB/T19208 – 2008) – were implemented in October.

Reclaimed rubber recycling in the most common destination for ELTs
However, perhaps the main reason why collected casings aren’t being retreaded is because they are entering rubber reclamation in large number. For the last seven years China has topped rubber consumption tables with new tyres accounting for 58% of this demand. This has put pressure on the Chinese government to show it willingness to recycle in this area and, up till now, companies have seen rubber reclamation as the most straightforward kind of recycling.

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China has more than 700 reclaimed rubber producers that, in 2007, outputted 1.85 million tons, apparently accounting for 90% of global capacity. Furthermore, demand for restored rubber (the highest grade of reclaimed rubber) is said to be increasing. Conventional reclaimed rubber can only provide 30% – 50% of maiden rubber properties, whereas restored rubber is said to offer 70% of the performance of first life rubber.

CTRA’s Restored Rubber Branch is keen to point out that restored rubber can replace natural and synthetic rubbers in the production of various tyres and non-tyre rubber products. According to the CTRA-RRB, more than 20 scrap rubber recycling enterprises in China have mastered the production technology of restored rubber and are now capable of producing a total output of 60,000 tons a year. CTRA-RRB reports that the global reclaimed rubber powder and products market has an estimated annual output of 3.5 million tons with a value of US$1.5 – $2 billion. (Tyres & Accessories/Staffordshire, U.K.)

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