According to a Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology report, approximately 280+ million used tires are discarded each year. Only about 30 million of these tires are retreaded or reused, leaving the remaining 250 million scrap tires to be managed.
But how are used tires managed, and what could happen if they aren’t? Let’s review the importance of tire recycling and the lives tires can have after the rubber leaves the road.
Fast-Track Tire Facts: The Importance of Recycling
Tires greatly contribute to our ongoing waste problem due to their makeup of natural rubber and plastic.
Here’s how un-recycled tires affect the environment when not disposed of properly:
- Fires – Spontaneous combustion is possible in used, stockpiled tires due to their large exposed surface areas and permeability to airflow. Tire fires can burn for several days, sometimes months, emitting dangerous smoke.
- Pollutes Soil and Water – As a tire breaks down in a landfill, its chemical makeup leaches and contaminates the ground and water surrounding it.
- Possibility to Spread Disease – Discarded tires in stockpiles become homes for disease-carrying insects. Tires can also become filled with water and leaves where mosquitoes can live and feed.
Because of these harmful effects, 38 states in the U.S. have banned the disposal of whole tires in landfills (meaning scraps still can be tossed), and 11 of those states ban all tires in landfills. Not only are there compelling environmental and health reasons to recycle tires but also compelling legal reasons.
Knowing the Recycling Roadmap: How Tire Lives Can Roll On
Used tires cannot be as easily transformed into reusable materials like paper, plastic and certain metals. Their large volume, resilience and enormous threat to our environment and health creates a challenge. Fortunately, the EPA estimates there are more than 110+ different products that can be made from recycled tires.
Here are just a few of the many alternatives (beyond your customers turning them into swings):
- Molded automobile parts (like engine belts and floor mats)
- Rubberized asphalt (to resurface many roads)
- Running tracks and sports courts
- Garden mulch
- Erosion control barriers
- And, ironically, landfill caps (because tire chips offer thermal insulation between liners to reduce temperatures)
Getting Ahead of the Curve: Immediate Steps
Besides recycling, here are a few actions tire dealers can take to reduce tire wear/waste and boost their customer base:
- Tire Pressure – The most important way to prolong tire life is to keep them properly inflated. Tires should be anchored by quality valve caps and filled with an air compressor with clean, dry air (moist air can cause premature breakdown of the rubber). Having a fill station at your shop or simply encouraging customers to check their tire pressure by signs at the shop or through different digital marketing can be a way you help boost their environmental awareness around tires.
- Regularly Check Tires – Regularly evaluating tires for wear patterns can help your business identify pervasive problems. These clues can lead to educational opportunities for retailers.
- Right-Sized Solutions – It’s also important to consider commercial tire casing designed with retreading in mind. Being able to retread a tire multiple times will help keep rubber waste to a minimum.
Next time you need to replace your customers’ old tires, make a point to recycle them. If you don’t have plans to turn them into something new at your business, find a company in your area that specializes in recycling tires. This way, you can do your part to protect the environment and your community while ensuring your organization is fully compliant with federal, state and local requirements.
Ray Hatch has served as president and chief executive officer of Quest Resource Management Group since February 2016. He’s a senior executive with in-depth experience building a profitable business and orchestrating transformational growth. Hatch brings over 25 years of experience in waste management and food services industries that generated more than a billion dollars in revenue.