Sinister story behind thick black smoke seen from space

Horrified reactions have flowed on social media after a video showing a burning pile of tyres was shared online.

Thick, black smoke can be seen billowing into the air in the video which has been viewed more than 2.6 million times since it was shared on Thursday.

Many of the comments included despair at wider issues including climate change and pollution.

Video of a large tyre fire in Kuwait. Source: Twitter
Video of a large tyre fire in Kuwait has led many social media users to despair. Source: Twitter

“It is scenes like this which show what the earth is up against,” wrote one person.

“Maybe we won’t figure it out,” said someone else.

“We can send man to the moon, but can't sort out crap out on earth?” another respondent lamented.

Tyre fires a common occurrence

Fires at Kuwait’s vast tyre stockpiles are a relatively common occurrence, making determining the exact location of the anonymously filmed video difficult to pinpoint.

Many have suggested it was likely filmed at Kuwait’s famed Sulaibiya tyre graveyard, and have shared satellite images of the site which show smoke wafting from the stockpile.

A plume of smoke has been spotted billowing from Sulaibiya tire graveyard in Kuwait. Source: Google Earth / Maxar Technologies
A plume of smoke has been spotted billowing from Sulaibiya tire graveyard in Kuwait. Source: Google Earth / Maxar Technologies

Last year a fire charred 25,000 square metres of the facility, burning an estimated one million tyres in the process.

Others believe the fire could be at Jahra Governorate, another Kuwaiti jurisdiction, where large blazes have been reported in January and April this year.

Key tyre facts you need to know

  • Tyres are made of composite materials including natural and synthetic rubber, steel fibre and carbon.

  • Approximately 543,000 tonnes of tyres were sold in Australia during the 2018 / 2019 period.

  • Passenger tyres accounted for 43 per cent, and truck tyres 33 per cent.

  • Australian tyres last for 40,000km on average, significantly longer than they did in the 1970s at 32,000km.

More intriguing satellite images from around the world

World works to deal with tonnes of discarded tyres

Dealing the the environmental consequences of disposing of used tyres continues to be a problem for many countries.

Burning of tyres is not encouraged as doing so releases carcinogenic dioxins into the air and pollutants can trigger immediate health issues including asthma.

In the 1970s and 1980s efforts were made in the US and South East Asia to create artificial reefs using discarded tyres, but they have become environmentally disastrous after tyres were dislodged during storms and damaged nearby coral.

In Britain, where an estimated 486,000 tonnes of tyres are discarded each year, nearly all are recycled or reused.

Easy steps you can take to save the planet

Australia lagging behind UK on tyre recycling

Australia lags behind the UK and Europe when it comes to dealing with discarded tyres, with more than 63 per cent ending up in unknown destinations or landfill.

On average, 27 per cent are exported, with the majority being burnt as fuel, while the remainder are recycled domestically.

As of December, exporters will only be permitted to send tyres overseas if they are bus, aviation or truck tyres being retreaded or if they have been processed into granules for recycling or transformed into fuel.

Jim Grant from tyre recycling firm ATRA told Yahoo News Australia that builders in Australia tend to favour “virgin materials” rather than recycled components when undertaking major projects.

With tyre fuel compatible to black coal when it comes to emissions, he foresees a time when they will no longer be accepted overseas and believes Australia must increase its domestic recycling capabilities.

“We need acceptance by government and engineers for the use of recycled tyres in major civil applications,” he said.

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