Mathe to commission new retread recycling plant at Hammarsdale

Dr Mehran Zarrebini stands on a pile of truck tyres waiting for recycling

Tyre retreading is big business in South Africa and Mathe Group, one of South Africa’s largest used radial truck tyre recycling operations, will be cashing in on this with a multi-million-rand investment in a new line to recycle waste rubber from the retreading process.

According to Dr Mehran Zarrebini, CEO of British investment group PFE International, one of the largest investors in the recycler, because most goods travel by road rather than by rail, South Africa is one of the largest tyre recyclers in the world. Local retreaders process as many tyres per day as some of the largest operations in the United States. 

An estimated 1,1 million new truck tyres are sold in South Africa each year. At the end of its useful life, 80% of a tyre can still be used provided the casing is not damaged. Because local transporters rely on retreaded tyres to reduce their CPKs (running cost per kilometre), most of these tyres are retreaded up to three times.

Added to this, a further 200 000 reusable casings are imported for retreading each year.

Dr Zarrebini likens the tyre retreading process to grating cheese! After inspection, the remaining rubber on a tyre casing is grated away in preparation for the addition of a new rubber tread. “The initial grate is course but, the closer to the tread base you get, the finer the resulting grate becomes. The grated rubber is known as buffing and it is this buffing that is either resold to recyclers or disposed of in landfills.”

As this rubber and used truck tyres degrade extremely slowly, this poses an enormous environmental hazard.

Each retreaded tyre generates between seven and 10 kilograms of buffing, making this a significant source of raw material for Mathe Group’s ever hungry Hammarsdale recycling plant.

During 2018, the operation doubled production and the factory currently recycles approximately 150 000 used radial truck tyres per annum.

Having grown out of a very small New Germany based operation that was launched in 2012, Mathe has gone from strength to strength since the opening of its new factory in Hammarsdale in February 2016. It currently operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has been under ongoing pressure to increase output. 

“We have a full manufacturing programme and, because we currently sell all the crumb that we produce, we have been under significant pressure to increase capacity. Our primary focus is on sustainability and developing products manufactured from recycled materials. This latest investment is in line with that and also provides us with an opportunity to diversify further and create additional revenue streams,” Dr Zarrebini explains. 

Rubber crumb produced from used radial truck tyres is used by the Van Dyck Floors factory in Durban for the manufacture of rubber flooring, paving, inter locking rubber mats and acoustic underlays for carpets which are exported to 50 countries across the world.  Mathe Group also has a wide customer base that buys rubber crumb for use as an infill for sports fields utilising artificial grass, for inclusion in modified bitumen for road resurfacing, the manufacture of non-slip paint and ballistics equipment.  

The new plant, which was sourced in China and delivered this month (June), will be commissioned in July. It is expected to double output and create at least 10 new jobs. Zarrebini believes employment numbers will grow with output and uptake of the resulting new product.

“ Ours will be the first facility to process both whole tyres and retread for various industries including Van Dyck Carpets’ factory. We will also look to market these products to new clients in a similar manner as we did when we started the tyre recycling facility,” he says.

Both the production process and the end product that results from recycling waste from tyre retreading are completely different.

With the new line, the overall production process is simpler and faster and, unlike tyres, the rubber to be recycled is 100% wire and fabric free.

“The type of product manufactured will have a shredded surface which will then be bound and ideal for play areas requiring impact protection or rubber mulch for unusual areas that need to be landscaped. Rubber mulch can require minimal groundworks and no raised edging. It can be installed onto prepared grass, over grass mats or artificial grass, mounds and tree pits, gravel, paving, old bark pits or to overlay damaged or worn out wet pour,” he explains.

Dr Zarrebini says that Mathe Group will source rubber retread waste nationally. However, although up to 60 percent of tyre retreading takes place in Gauteng and just 15 to 20 percent in KwaZulu-Natal, it will initially try to maximise sourcing product from its home province in order to minimise the company’s environmental footprint.