Ready for new tires? Your old ones have an important future

Posted on Mon, 06/11/2018
Tire Recycling

By Rich Martin and John Klise

Recently we wrote a blog post about food waste. It was so well received we are now writing a series of articles on other types of recycling.

When your automotive service technician says, “The tread on all four of your tires is worn” you’re probably thinking about the replacement cost – not whether your old tires will be recycled.

But tire recycling matters. According to our research, more than one billion “retired” tires are generated each year around the globe. It’s estimated that four billion tires are in landfills and stockpiles.

One hundred or so years ago, the price of an ounce of rubber was worth the same as an ounce of silver, making tire recycling a priority. The introduction of synthetic rubber along with the use of steel belted radial tires was a game changer: tires became more difficult to recycle and ended up in landfills.

The problem with tires in landfills are many, including how much air space they consume; their ability to rise to the surface and rupture landfill liners that are designed to prevent contaminants from polluting; and the rodents that use them for shelter. And because they can trap water, they provide a breeding ground for mosquitos.

Tire recycling programs have made progress in recent years, however, and the results of these activities are impressive. In 1994, 700-800 million tires were estimated to be illegally stockpiled. Ten years later, that number was reported to be reduced to 275 million.

New life for old tires

Scrap tires have multiple uses: tire-derived fuel, ground rubber applications, and civil engineering applications. (And if you happen to have a large tree in your yard with a branch that can support 100 or so pounds, it’s nice to set up a tire swing.)

The Environmental Protection Agency says that tire-derived fuels are a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels, provided proper regulatory controls are in place. Tires can be burned whole or in shredded pieces. When they are burned for fuel, they produce the same amount of energy as oil and 25% more energy than coal. In addition, they result in lower nitrogen oxide emissions than many US coals.

Ground rubber is used for manufacturing asphalt rubber (noise reducing pavement material) as well as animal bedding, children’s playgrounds, underlay and infill for sports fields, and running tracks. It’s also replaced traditional civil engineering materials – to the tune of 17 million old tires in 2015.

Even more innovative? A few years ago, Timberland entered into a licensing agreement with tire manufacturer and distributor Omni United to create a co-branded line of tires under the Timberland and Radar Tires brand, with the plan of designing tires that would eventually be recycled into the outer soles of Timberland footwear. Once the tread on a Timberland Tire wears out, they are re-claimed, separated and recycled into Timberland footwear

Far and wide, everyone is in on it

It’s encouraging to read about programs designed to responsibly dispose of tires. Tire Stewardship BC is a non-profit organization formed in 2007 to replace what had been a government-run program in British Columbia. Their program provides residents the option of returning tires to participating retailers as well as requesting a pick up; they hold “round up” events throughout the province, too.

Independence Conservancy, an all-volunteer land trust organization based in Industry, Pennsylvania, has been collecting tires since 2001. Their program incents residents and small businesses to work together; they also cover the cost of disposing the tires that are cut/sheared at their community events.

These grassroots recycling efforts need to continue, but it’s the large-scale endeavors that will impact the future in a meaningful way. Last month French tire maker Michelin announced its tire-recycling goals for the coming 30 years and they are lofty. By 2048, they expect their tires to contain 80 percent recycled materials, and the company aims to have 100 percent of its tires recycled. Not only would this type of sustainability program conserve natural resources, but it would reduce the cost of materials for manufacturing.

“If we achieve these ambitions, we would save 33 million barrels of oil each year,” said Cyrille Roget, the company’s technical and innovation communications director. “That is equivalent to the entire annual oil consumption of France.”

Closer to home, Pittsburgh-based Liberty Tire Recycling collects tires from more than 60,000 locations nationwide and provides services throughout the United States -- including Chicago -- and in a few locations in Canada. They’ve also remediated more than 150 dump sites littered with scrap tires. Each year, by reclaiming, recycling and reusing tires, Liberty transforms more than 140 million tires into sustainable products. Today scrap tires are shredded and ground into a variety of powders, crumbs and nuggets for use in products ranging from railroad ties and welcome mats to portable speed bumps.

Clearly, the best is yet to come.

Since 1997, Paper Tiger Document Solutions has handled records storage and residential and commercial shredding throughout the Chicago area and northeastern Wisconsin. Whether we provide shredding services at a client’s location in one of our mobile trucks, or we pick up documents and shred them at our facility, we provide a Certificate of Document Destruction.