How to save the planet with better tyres

There are many missions to save our planet from climate change, from emissions trading schemes and carbon capture to electric vehicles and recycling initiatives. Some of the most effective actions could be taken at the margins. And one such effort is coming through better tyres.

The European Union is currently developing new rules to improve tyre labelling as part of its broad programme of energy, environment and transport policies to fight climate change. A European Commission proposal was released in May 2018 with the Third Mobility Package safe, clean and connected mobility. The package, which is making its way through the EU legislative machine, includes a legislative proposal revising the label for tyres on all road-using vehicles including vans and lorries.

It would oblige suppliers to display tyre labels in all forms of purchase, including in-shop and online by January 1, 2020. This will replace the 2009 Tyre Labelling Regulation, introduced in November 2012, for passenger car and light-truck tyres.

The new proposal aims to give consumers more information on fuel efficiency, safety and noise – and improve market surveillance and enforcement of across the EU. The label would include visual information on tyre performance in snow or ice conditions. It would indicate three new criteria on the labels: the energy efficiency impact on fuel consumption, graded from A to G; the tyre’s ability to brake on a wet surface, graded from A to F; and external rolling noise, expressed in decibels.

Environmental impact

Part of the significance of the new proposal is that it is so far from the big ideas often offered as answers to our climate predicament. It is not part of an across-the-board carbon-cutting target, or about rethinking the internal combustion engine. It is an unlikely source of efficiency, because it does not in itself drain fossil fuels (although oil is used to make it, and tyres are infamously tough to dispose of – but those are separate challenges).

Tyres account for between 10 and 30% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption, make noise pollution, produce particle pollution in the air, and tyre abrasion is a major contributor to microplastics pollution in water.

Commission officials calculate that the proposal will lead to carbon dioxide savings equivalent of removing almost four million passenger cars from EU roads per year by 2030 – and save each household up to €125 per car, per year.

The move has been backed by motoring organisations who say it will help drivers and road safety by giving them information about the three ratings of fuel efficiency, wet grip and passing noise. It has also been hailed by the International Tyre Manufacturers’ Association who say it will improve tyre safety and inform consumers of the relative value and environmental benefits of the tyres they are buying.

A big difference

The measures are not without critics, though. The European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers’ Association says that the 2009 rules on mandatory tyre labelling have done little to raise demand for safer and more fuel-efficient tyres.

But the new proposals aim to fix those issues. They fit into the EU’s energy efficiency legislation that includes eco-design regulations, helping consumers take informed decisions that are both good for the environment and save money.And if successful, it could be one of the little things that help make a big difference.