Byron Duncan

As a whippersnapper, nine-year-old Byron Duncan used to collect scrap metal to earn pocket money. More than 50 years later, he’s still making new money from old rope, as one of Hawke’s Bay’s first end-of-life tyre processors. The journey to business owner and participant in the circular economy is full of setbacks, opportunities, and detours; here’s how a kid from Ahuriri got his start, where he is now, and what happened in between.

The work ethic was strong in the Duncan household. “There were five kids, Mum and Dad, and two full-time boarders living in our three bedroom house. Dad was taxi driver, and Mum looked after us,” says Duncan. “At night she worked as the taxi despatcher and for 20 years she took in laundry and ironed people’s clothes.”

Young Byron mowed lawns, chopped wood, and had milk and paper rounds. He wasn’t much of a student and left school at 14. Apprenticed to his grandfather, he earnt his ticket as panel beater and coach builder. By his early 20s, things were looking pretty good. He was married, in his first home complete with mortgage, and a proud, young dad. 

That is, until Grandad passed away. The sale of Grandad’s business to a co-worker came as a shock, and Duncan was out on his ear, and out of a job.

“I didn’t know what to do,” says Duncan. “It was the first time I’d had any pushback in my life. But the old saying of when one door closes, another opens, is true. I was sitting at home, and got a job offer by phone. The guy said to me ‘I can only pay XX amount’ but it was double what I had been earning. The job was moving and re-piling houses. I started the next day.”

Since then, there have been many jobs and life events along the way. After the end of his first marriage Duncan took a break in 1986, with the intention of travelling with friends in Europe for six months. He arrived in Denmark in April of that year, the day after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. 

That short-term vacation turned into a long-term OE. Duncan travelled a lot, and ended up in Taiwan, at the invitation of a friend. He stayed seven years. During that time, he had a successful sales career in the liquor industry. It was during this period that Duncan learnt about the importance of relationships in business. “The suit and tie doesn’t mean anything; it’s all about the deal.”

He came back to the Bay in the mid-late 1990s, accompanied by his new wife and son. At the time, it wasn’t clear what they would do. Eventually, on the advice of friends back in Taiwan, they established a business importing new and second hand tyres from Taiwan. 

The business was called Big Value Tyres, which Duncan sold after 12 years. After taking a break, he started Tiger Tyres, and that business is still running today. Ironically, both businesses were/are based in the same building in Hyderabad Road as his grandfather’s was all those years ago. He had come full circle, arriving back at the place of his first great challenge. But this time, he was in charge.

Despite his success and other business interests, you’ll find Duncan on site every day, looking after his customers, and finding the best deal. But that’s not all he does. Small, and nuggety, and in his early sixties now, he shows no sign of slowing down, regularly working seven days a week.

Tiger Tyres remains a one site operation, and by all accounts is a good business with a steady stream of customers. 

In 2018, Duncan established a new venture, with strong environmental credentials; tyre shredding. He takes old tyres and processes them into fuel for the concrete industry. He explains: “I got sick and tired of having to pay to dispose of old tyres. Contacts of mine from Korea were doing a similar thing, and doing quite well out of it. 

“So I did my homework, found a New Zealand company that could make the tyre shredding machinery, bought a building in Awatoto, and got started.”

What was in the building was also useful to the fledgling tyre shredding business; a massive stockpile of 50,000 tyres. Duncan also had a customer for his shredded tyre material; known in the business as TDF (tyre derived fuel). His Korean contacts were the catalyst for a relationship with Samsung, the South Korean chaebol (mega conglomerate) that has among other things, a concrete business. 

Since then, Duncan has grown the business to the point where it’s processing up to 1,000 tyres a day. Over the past couple of years Duncan has shipped the equivalent of 800,000 tyres to South Korea, and he’s established relationships with all of the local councils and collected tyres from around the region and beyond. The business operates five days a week and employs two full-time staff.

He reckons he’s taken thousands of tyres from the Omarunui landfill, and is pleased to be doing the “right thing”.

Covid-19 has left its impact on his business; shipping costs have skyrocketed and it’s no longer viable to ship TDF to South Korea. Instead, the resourceful Duncan cold-called Golden Bay Cement and his shredded product now journeys to Whangarei. 

Duncan describes the Golden Bay relationship as a “really good arrangement, that’s just starting to flow”. He says his business is doing ok, and hopes that it will move from break even to profit next year.

Of NZ’s five million end-of-life tyres, currently only 25% are recycled, with the rest stockpiled or dumped. The environmental impacts are well known. The sector has lots of operators collecting tyres and charging a range of prices. Often it’s these tyres that end up dumped in a gully somewhere or in the far reaches of a forest. Improperly disposed of tyres litter landscapes and waterways and can be a source of health and environmental concerns. Fires in stockpiles can release toxic gases, and tyre stockpiles provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes and vermin.

Dumped and landfill tyres also represent a loss of potentially valuable resources, as EOL (end of life) tyres and tyre derived products can be put to use in many productive ways.

This market failure is the key reason behind the New Zealand Government designating EOL tyres as a high priority waste stream. As such, it requires a regulated product stewardship scheme to be put in place. Many countries have long-established tyre stewardship schemes to tackle the problem of EOL tyres, leading to innovation and the creation of new industries and uses for these problematic rubber rings. New Zealand has been slow to get on the bandwagon. 

Adele Rose

Adele Rose probably hears more about end-of-life tyres and their potential commercial applications than anyone in New Zealand. She is the CEO of 3R Group, a Hastings-based, nationwide business that is expert in product stewardship schemes. In fact Tyrewise – New Zealand’s tyre stewardship scheme – is project managed by Rose and her team, who also co-designed the scheme with industry and government.

By the time the final piece of regulation is passed that enables Tyrewise to go live, it will have been a 10-year process, says Rose.

“Based on international examples, we didn’t expect it to be any quicker.”

The first step was to build trust and understanding within the industry, and between the importers of tyres and the collectors of tyres. 

At the beginning, there was an element of distrust, says Rose. “Distrust of what the process would be, distrust of the Government being at the table, distrust of creating a system to address market failure.

“One of the brilliant outcomes of this process is that the working group that co-designed this industry-led scheme worked so well together, that even though the work is completed, the group remains intact and functional.”

Liz Read, former independent chair of 3R, says: “the adage “good things take time” certainly applies to Tyrewise. It is a credit to the tenacity of Adele and her team and the commitment of leaders in the industry that New Zealand finally has a way to deal with one of our most ubiquitous man-made environmental risks. 

“Chairing a business that was leading the design of the first regulated product stewardship scheme for New Zealand brought its challenges for Directors. With no roadmap to follow and changes in government and ministerial priorities along the way, our risk focus was well and truly exercised.” 

Rose says that there is huge opportunity for the creation of high value products from EOL tyres. 

“We are currently wasting a resource that has value and is harming the environment. Tyre-derived fuel for the concrete industry is the best use of EOL tyres to start with as it takes volume, enables the creation of systems, and encourages innovation. 

“As a result of the work on the regulated scheme, there has been a general uplift in more robust business that have secure supply agreements in place.”

Rose cites Treadlite, a Cambridge business that uses EOL tyres to manufacture premium equestrian arena mix made from recycled rubber, transforming a low-value product. 

“They have state-of-the-art plant, are highly compliant, with a strong business and sales model, and are getting noticed internationally.”

With support and oversight the market will open up new opportunities, says Rose. But the regulated scheme isn’t without sceptics. 

“One of the fears was that there would be a monopoly controlling the market. But the opportunity to pivot, be innovative, create new materials, new relationships would actually mean there is healthy competition in the market. This is playing out for the betterment of the industry and the EOL tyre sector. Those fears haven’t come to the fore, and we only see it getting better.”

The good news for consumers is that the fees will be set, transparent, and will pay for the tyre as it is processed at end of life. From a local and regional body perspective, dumping becomes far less likely when old tyres have an intrinsic value, which means fewer ratepayer dollars spent on clean up in the years to come.

Other countries, who are ahead of New Zealand have very successful schemes, and very successful R&D programmes that invest in EOL tyre materials with added value, evidencing that there is economic value for a tyre beyond its life as a tyre. Interestingly, Rose says: “in countries with tyre stewardship schemes you don’t see stockpiles of EOL tyres”. Here’s hoping that happens here too.

If overseas experience is anything to go by, the future looks bright New Zealand tyre recyclers like Byron Duncan and the circular economy that will benefit from new uses for EOL tyres; an item once considered so worthless it was chucked away. Proof indeed that there’s plenty of new money available for old rope. 

New Zealand’s tyre stewardship scheme

• Addresses 5 million EOL tyres pa

• A priority waste stream

• Expected to take effect in 2023

• 10 years in the making

• Co-designed by industry, government and Hastings based 3R Group 

• Regulated by Government

• Transparent declared fees “attached” to tyres

• Expected to create new business and use for recycled tyre products 

• Incentivises creation of high value products from end of life tyres

• Controls the supply of EOL tyres to processors

• For more information: www.tyrewise.co.nz 

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