The question of tyres - sustainability in the van

The question of tyres - sustainability in the van
This contribution is part of the series Sustainability in the van

If you live in a van and sometimes drive from place to place, sooner or later you won't be able to avoid the question of tyres.

First of all, we didn't know that the manufacturers were doing so much research in this area. But they are doing a lot of research, and so far little has been implemented. Unfortunately. Probably not enough money in the coffers.

So when we had to change the front tyres after our England-Scotland-Ireland tour, I wanted to ask the dealer if he had anything sustainable. But before I could even ask the question, the mech made me an offer: used tyres. Good, but almost unused tyres. Okay, we were on it right away. Multiple use, longevity, waste avoidance: exactly our thing!

Only: Why did he have tyres in stock that had only run 40 kilometres? Because another customer drove with these tyres only for registration and then put on sportier, cooler and more off-road AT tyres.

Some tyre background knowledge

First of all: Good grip when braking and cornering, secure grip in wet or snowy conditions, low rolling resistance and low rolling noise are absolutely essential. Very clear. If that's not right, we don't even need to change.


Firstly, tyre production is very resource-intensive, secondly, the use (i.e. us) and thirdly, disposal. Let's take a closer look at these three points.

Car tyres consist of around 200 different materials, the most important are synthetic rubber, natural rubber (monoculture and endless plantations in South America and Southeast Asia) and so-called fillers. At the latest when they are disposed of, car tyres are therefore composite materials and can hardly be separated.

Natural rubber in particular - the name is confusing, of course - grows mostly in monocultures in the equatorial zone.

We do not intend to write a scientific treatise on the construction of tyres here, but rather to give advice on sensible use, decision-making and perhaps a small glimpse into the future. (Status of our research at the end of 2022, if you have new or better info, please email or post in the comments, we are very grateful for it!)

During the ride

There are two big levers we can "turn" sustainably: The Diesel consumption or petrol and the Consumption of the tyre itself.

A clever choice of tyres can significantly reduce fuel consumption, in our case diesel. Through a low rolling resistance For example, the Fuel consumption reduced sustainability. By the way, you can find out when you buy a tyre. In the EU (Switzerland is once again lagging behind), tyres have labels similar to refrigerators and washing machines, from which you can read a lot about sustainability, for example fuel efficiency. A scale from A to G shows whether the tyre has a high (A) or a low energy efficiency (G).

Plastic/plastic waste pollutes the environment - and the most emissions of microplastics come from tyre wear. Tyre abrasion particles thus pollute our waters and soils. The average abrasion per car: around 120 grams per 1000 kilometres. According to current studies Around 500,000 tonnes of tyre wear in the EU each year an. 500,000 tonnes! That is one third of all microplastic emissions.

OK, so once again look very carefully at which tyres you buy. For example, the sporty tyre models all have above-average tyre wear. Moreover, not all tyre manufacturers are equally interested in low tyre wear. (why do you think? - a rogue who thinks evil of it), often only tyre performance is emphasised in advertising messages, but not the environmental characteristics of a tyre.

We refrain from naming brands here, as we hope that the topic will gain significant momentum in the next few years and that manufacturers will also have to make a move.

What factors influence tyre wear?

Tyre wear in real-life driving conditions is highly dependent on the operating conditions and the driving style. Generally speaking, a fuel-efficient driving style also leads to less tyre wear.

The following factors increase tyre wear: mountainous regions, driving on concrete instead of asphalt, wet roads, higher vehicle weight, sporty axle geometry, high-torque engines, higher speeds, driving with a trailer etc..

Interim conclusion and a few inspirations for us van & camper drivers

  • A few kilometres better than frequent drivers (hui, we can take a look at ourselves right now)
  • Vehicle weight: yes yes, here too it is difficult to reduce even more (but we are restricted with 3.5 tonnes permissible total weight anyway). But maybe not everything has to travel with you all the time? Do the extra barbecue, the paddle boats, the (Nespresso) coffee machine, the bicycles, the motorbike in the so-called rear garage or the quad bike on the trailer have to go? really always be there?
  • Calm and careful drivingas we slow travellers do, scores points in terms of sustainability. So don't go full throttle-brake-full throttle, but look ahead and take it easy. The view out of the window is more beautiful anyway!
  • Tyres after EU Tyre Label 2012 instead of according to brand, appearance and off-road capability (we have now missed 4ร—4 and AT tyres exactly once for about 1.5 years and also solved the situation differently)..
  • Run tyres down to the last permitted kilometre, do not change too early. As a rule, every 40,000 to 50,000 kilometres. Tread depth up to the legally prescribed minimum tread depth of 1.6 millimetres instead of recommended 3 millimetres exploit (safety provided).
  • Ask the dealer for so-called good Used tyres or retread ask.
  • An always correct tyre pressure extends the life of the tyre and is therefore much more sustainable.

Recycling & Reuse

Quite clearly, the responsibility here lies with industry and politics. We can't really do anything here. Nevertheless, perhaps interesting?

Every year, one billion used tyres are produced worldwide - efficient recycling would give the term "black gold" a whole new meaning.

Retreaded tyres for a second life.

This is rather rare for cars, but seems to be standard for trucks. We don't know anything about this, but we'll ask the tyre dealer. By the way, retreading: it takes 70 per cent less energy and raw materials than manufacturing a new tyre. That would be something.

What happens to the old tyres?

About 30 per cent of scrap tyres are thermally recycled, i.e. used as fuel in the concrete industry.
And this is notoriously unsustainable! But concrete itself also has a devastating environmental and climate footprint. Four to eight percent of the world's CO2-emissions are due to concrete production. This means that the building material causes about three times as many emissions as all air traffic and is just behind coal, oil and gas in terms of material emissions..

About 60-70 % of the rubber flours and granulates obtained are (or at least could be) reused as secondary raw materials, not only in the tyre industry but also elsewhere.

Tyres become even more sustainable, for example, if they are made from recycled old tyres. In the future, 3D printing will be used to produce a new tyre (or parts thereof) from the rubber flour of old tyres.

But there is no really precise information on what happens to all the tyres. On our travels, we often see old tyres lying by the side of the road and often on rubbish dumps, which then burn away.

The question of tyres - sustainability in the van
The question of tyres - sustainability in the van

Alternative forms of production and other exciting ideas (but we still have to wait for them!)

By 2050, the industry wants to make its tyres from 100 per cent natural or recycled raw materials, a lot of research is being done and we can be excited.

For example, research is being done with Russian dandelion, which can be harvested twice a year and seems to be as good as rubber (monoculture). The guayle bush growing in Mexico also seems to be an alternative to rubber.

There is also a research project where recycled yoghurt cups could be incorporated into tyres to eliminate the need for new plastic.

According to the tyre giant Clermont-Ferrand, the carcasses of the tyres could be made with a fibre fabric from recycled PET bottles. Michelin has first tyres with recycled steel for the belt.

Silica and industrial carbon black (important fillers for rolling resistance) used in the production of tyres could be replaced by the ash from rice husks. Furthermore, these substances could be reused by recycling them from old tyres.

Forestry and agricultural residues such as straw and wood chips could be used for ethanol production, which in turn accounts for a large proportion of tyre production.

The car tyre of the future can also produce its own energy. This is produced during photosynthesis, in which the moss emits CO2 into oxygen. This energy is to power electronics embedded in the tyre.

A cool idea at the end: How can a car tyre improve the climate?

By greening it with plants that produce a particularly large amount of oxygen. For example, the side wall of the tyre of the future could be "planted" with moss. The plant then converts CO2 from the air into oxygen. One tyre manufacturer, for example, has calculated that in the greater Paris area, with its approximately 2.5 million cars, almost 3,000 tonnes of oxygen could be produced annually and more than 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide absorbed - assuming all cars were equipped with the "moss tyre".

Our conclusion

We cannot really intervene in production and disposal. We only have a lot of options when it comes to selection and use. We have described these above and hope that there is also something for you!

Before the time comes, search the internet for up-to-date information and we are sure you will find what you are looking for! Don't let the tyre dealer talk you into anything right away, because most of the time - in our experience - we have a lot more knowledge about sustainability.

If any information is not correctly reproduced or something important is missing, please write to us in the comments or by email.

Thank you for reading our sustainability thoughts. Every two to three weeks on Mondays we write something about the possibility of living future-oriented in the van. We try to shed light on different areas and hope to do so without pointing fingers.

Our focus is on the joy of van life and the many possibilities. We want to avoid the usual doomsday and renunciation communication.

You can find all the sustainability posts collected in the Category Future.

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We are also very happy to hear your views, your tips or your questions. Just comment on the post!

Best regards - Heike & Gerd

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This contribution is part of the series Sustainability in the van
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1 year ago

Beautiful and important article!
We all talk about environmental protection, but nobody talks about our tyre wear.
Why do you think ? ๐Ÿ˜‡

I always drive with 0.3 bar more than specified.
This does not compromise safety, saves fuel and tyres!

Yes, the driving.
It makes a lot of difference.
But watching people move a motor vehicle like this.....๐Ÿ™ˆ

And what routes! ๐Ÿ˜ณ

On the other hand:
When you see abroad how they deal with this kind of thing.
Open the oil drain plug and just let it run.
There is nothing wrong with collecting and disposing of it properly.
Leave car with engine running, problem.

Some of us try our best. ๐Ÿ’–

Kind regards from Racheli

1 year ago

Very interesting report. So it can't hurt to think about this either.
I personally have reservations about the subject of retreaded tyres. I have had retreaded winter tyres for my car before. I still remember how parts of the tread came off on a holiday trip. Fortunately, the tyre did not burst because I noticed it in time. I would never have guessed from your information that trucks are often on the road with such tyres, given the stress they are exposed to. Of course, this explains why I have seen so many detached treads on truck tyres on my many kilometres of motorway.
Of course, these are only my subjective impressions, but I have no confidence in this type of tyre. There must be 1000s of satisfied drivers.

Kind regards to Italy

1 year ago
Reply to  Heike Burch

And you have made me think again, thank you for that!
By the way, it's been a decade or two with my retreads, presumably something has really changed here!

1 year ago
Reply to  Dirk

Listen, just discovered.
from about halfway it's all about retreads!


1 year ago

Hello you two dear.

Oh crap.
I must have expressed myself in a misleading way. ๐Ÿ™ˆ
I didn't mean you with "which routes"!

I meant by that:
Quickly to the post office, briefly to the pharmacy, drive children to school 500m away, etc.
In other words, pointless routes that could also be done very well on foot or by bike. ๐Ÿ˜

Besides, with my job, I'm probably one of the worst! ๐Ÿ˜ฅ
I have often thought about what I am doing, how much senseless dirt I and my colleagues are causing.
And how this could be changed.
I have ideas.
But neither the money nor the nerve to implement it.
Now I will soon be retired and leave the field to the next generation.

Continue to have fun!
Especially in Italy.๐Ÿฅฐ
And I will continue to enjoy riding with you. ๐Ÿ‘

Sincerely s'Racheli

1 year ago
Reply to  Rachel

Don't worry about it!

We are only trying to show what is possible. We take ourselves by the nose, you have certainly not expressed yourself in a misleading way.

Maybe just like this: the others, they do this and that. We try to avoid that. Because those who find themselves here in our texts know that anyway. Those who don't find themselves here also unsubscribe (we notice that and that's absolutely okay for us).

So, let's reflect peacefully, change or adapt something if necessary and then we can't blame ourselves respectively. Not you as an "eco-recycling aunt" and we as "we try our best, let's see what works" travellers as well โค๏ธ

Best regards from the home office

Sabine End
Sabine End
1 year ago

Hello Heike,
I only came across your site yesterday and am now browsing through it.
I find this section particularly exciting.
I'm right there with you and your thoughts and thank you for the research.
We, my husband and I, have been living in our mobile home for just under two years now.
I actually also have "Pipilรคppchen"๐Ÿ˜€, darning all the socks, repairing other clothes, everything takes a bit, couldn't take the sewing machine with me. Well, etc...
When we bought tyres last autumn, we unfortunately did not pay attention to sustainability, but we hope that our slow driving style can compensate for this omission somewhat.
Looking forward to more contributions
Kind regards