Illegal dumping of used car tires is becoming a problem. Reporters have revealed how easy it is to pose as a tire dealer and engage in criminal waste disposal deals. With the help of a GPS tracker, they were able to follow the path of worn-out tires.

The business of Rifat Kazanciouglu, meat manufacturer and founder of the supermarket chain Bolu, could certainly do better. A few years ago, he failed in an attempt to set up a meat cutting plant on a derelict site in the Pankow district of Berlin. Then he divided up the property, leased the individual areas to several dealers who earn their money with waste – and is now involved in a garbage scandal.

More than 2000 tons of scrap and garbage are now stored on his property. All illegal, as confirmed by the Berlin Environmental Senate when asked by FOCUS online. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office has already applied to the Tiergarten District Court for a penalty order against one of the tenants for operating a waste facility without permission. The Berlin State Criminal Police Office is still investigating another.

The case came to the light of a broader public because reporters from the SWR format “Vollbild” and the “Berliner Zeitung” researched the tire mafia and the Berlin garbage-smuggling scene – partly undercover. They spoke to certified scrap tire disposal companies, explored illegal tire stores, searched portals such as Ebay classifieds for suspicious offers and pretended to be tire dealers.

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They finally arranged a tire deal with a questionable entrepreneur from Berlin, who is already under investigation in another federal state on suspicion of illegal waste disposal:

Reporter: “I heard I can drop off old tires at your place?”

Entrepreneur: “That is correct. How many do you have?

Reporter: “We have about 150 tires in a hall, I can bring them to you.”

Entrepreneur: “That’s fine, I can get them too. I take two euros per tire. If you have more, I can also do something on the price.”

The offer to take the old tires for two euros each is a bargain. Reputable disposal companies charge twice as much or more.

Around 700,000 tons of old tires accumulate in Germany every year. Their professional recycling is not only expensive, but also complicated. For a long time, large quantities of used tires were burned in cement works to generate energy. But the cement industry is switching to plastic waste. The use of granulated used tires in products such as artificial turf, running tracks or gym mats is also becoming more difficult because the legal requirements are becoming ever stricter.

In addition, the tires that are driven in this country are becoming less and less suitable for rims in Africa. German tires are just too wide, exports are stagnating. In turn, cheap “Chinese tires” are driving retreaded old tires off the market because new ones are cheaper than recycled ones. And Seal tires, which become flatless with adhesive, are also non-recyclable as a result.

The increasing disposal pressure and high costs make old tires a coveted commodity for cheap disposal companies and criminals. They offer simple solutions at prices that make clean and legal disposal impossible.

The problem with illegal tire mountains: toxins can easily get into the environment. Tires contain hydrocarbons, for example, which can be carcinogenic. Fires also break out from time to time, which makes things even worse. The poisons become gaseous and spread faster. In addition, there are dangerous substances such as dioxins and furans, which are only produced during combustion and can seriously damage health. Samples taken by the journalists from a burned-down tire warehouse not far from Leipzig show that the leftover tires are hazardous waste and belong in a special landfill.

In many cases, however, those responsible for illegal dumping are not held accountable. Either they cannot be found or they are destitute. Municipalities or the federal states therefore often have to take care of disposal, financed with taxpayers’ money. In some cases, damage has been caused in the millions.

Christina Guth has observed the illegal disposal of tires for many years. She heads the ZARE initiative (Certified Waste Tire Disposal Company), an association of companies that are organized in the Federal Association of Tire Trade and Vulcanizer Crafts.

Guth, along with her staff, documents the extent of illegal tire dumping and has covered hundreds of locations nationwide based on reports and newspaper articles. “What we have found is that illegal disposal is increasing,” says Guth in the SWR format film “Full Screen”. In 2021 alone, 195 cases were counted nationwide, 31 more than in the previous year.

ZARE has been counting cases of illegal tire disposal throughout Germany since 2016 – the numbers have increased every year. An increase is particularly noticeable with orders of 50 to 100 tires. However, since these are only reported cases, the number of unreported cases is probably significantly higher. The industry initiative estimates that in Germany only every second tire is disposed of by certified dealers.

The reporters handed over their tires to the questionable businessman from Berlin. Previously, they had tagged the cargo with a tracking device. They filmed the handover with a hidden camera. The old tires started moving the very next day – and ended up in the illegal storage facility in Berlin-Pankow.

At that time, thousands of used tires were already piled up on the site. The Pankow district office received complaints from residents last year about the mountains of rubbish. The authorities have meanwhile asked the tenants to clear out, as confirmed by the environmental senate when asked. But the opposite happened. Garbage was still dumped.

It is unclear what consequences property owner Rifat Kazancioglu has to fear. As a precaution, he gave notice to all tenants and blocked some storage areas, he says in an interview with FOCUS online. In the worst case, he is left with the garbage and thus with the costs of disposal. But he says himself: “It can’t stay the way it looks now.”