What happens to old motor tyres? Well, we all know what. They clog up streams, or weigh down vast sheets of black plastic behind farms, or lie piled up in dumps - where they are apparently a festering ground for disease. Indeed, how to get rid of 25 million worn out tyres each year was threatening to become a serious environmental-cum-health problem in the UK. But that was before the arrival of Anne Evans, a vivacious tyre trader from Connecticut. Her solution was to gather them up and burn them for electricity.
The first power station built by Evan's company, Elm Energy and Recycling, has just come on stream in Wolverhampton. It's expected to consume about a quarter of all the old tyres disposed of annually in Britain - while generating enough power for 25,000 homes. But where does Evans find all these tyres. No, she doesn't pick them out the hedgerows. She has 15-year contracts with three big tyre companies, Michelin, Goodyear and Pirelli, all of which have chains of tyre replacement outlets in the UK, so can guarantee continuity of supply. 'It simply would not work without these long-term deals,' says Evans.
At present she has rather too many tyres. Plans for a second plant in East Kilbride have been held up by a row over possible pollution. The outcome is awaited. Meanwhile Evans protests that 'The air coming out of our plant in Wolverhampton is cleaner than the air going in'. (Anyone who knows the West Midlands these days will recognise the strength of that claim.) So who is next in line? In all probability it will be dear old London, where motor tyres lie thicker on the tarmac than anywhere else in the country.