AnalysisTire (& Road) wear particles

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How much is there in the world?

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Estimates vary, but all studies conclude that tire wear particles are one of the main culprits for microplastics in the environment.

The EU suggests the following break-down (see article 9 in this series):

  • Laundering of clothes made from synthetic polymers, such as nylon and polyester (35% of primary microplastics);
  • Abrasion of tires through driving (28%);
  • Intentionally added microplastics in personal care products, for example micro-beads in facial scrubs (2%)

More recent report by the EU suggests a different balance:

  • Paints
  • Tires
  • Textiles
  • Pallets
  • Detergent capsules
  • Geotextiles

While non-tire sources, such as the micro-beads used in cosmetics have only been around for a few years, the tire industry has been producing tires for well over 100 years. Although there were fewer vehicles in the past, the tires were less advanced than they are now, with shorter tire life, leading to more pollution per vehicle.

This research suggests a certain breakdown of total tire wear particles generation.

Another study suggests fewer emissions:

China900 kt18.2%
USA841 kt16.8%
EU-27832 kt16.6%
Americas excluding. US655 kt13.1%
Asia excluding. China & India616 kt12.3%
Europe excluding EU-27441 kt8.8%
India251 kt5.0%
Africa211 kt4.2%
Mid-east169 kt3.4%

Note: the split above is based on total vehicle parc (excluding 2-wheelers).

As noted above, a consensus is emerging pointing to roughly 5 million tonnes of tire dust generated each year, around the world, split roughly as shown in the table (left).
Some countries such as China have a higher proportion of heavy trucks compared to light vehicles, so will generate proportionately more particles than those countries – such as the USA – which have proportionately more cars than trucks.

A series of reports carried out in the EU put the total European generation at around 1.2 million tonnes annually, which is consistent with the numbers given above for the EU-27 and other parts of Europe.
Different studies give a wide range of values of emissions per capita – from around 0.5kg.capita/year up to 5.5kg. The variation comes from the degree of motorisation in a country, as well as the type of vehicles in use in that country.

More vehicles tends to mean more miles driven and more heavy vehicles tends to mean more emissions.
However, these numbers refer to the emissions per year. Tires have been produced for over 100 years. Even if we take the last 25 years, the amount of tire material that has been deposited in the environment is staggering – around 100 million tonnes.

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