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The Truth about Tire Disposal


scrap tire landfill

Ever wondered what happens to your old tires once they’re taken away to be replaced by new ones ? Or why you have to pay a tire disposal fee when you buy a set of new tires ?  Once a tire has become unsuitable to function on a vehicle, due to a variety of reasons (e.g. cuts, bulges, tears, wear), it must be disposed of. And these tires can be a challenging source of waste for a number of reasons, including the durability of the rubber it’s made out of, the sheer number of tires that are used throughout the world, and some ecological issues which come into effect during disposal due to the components of a tire. Landfill space can often become heavily crowded with disposed tires, due to their durability and the fact they are non-biodegradable. 


Disposing of Tires at Landfill


In the US alone, around 250 million scrap tires are produced every single year. For many years, the primary place these tires would go was straight to a landfill site. This was never the best idea, as it took up a lot of room, with only 25% of the space a single tire takes up being dedicated to the rubber itself, with the rest simply being air. Furthermore, tires can appear to bubble to the surface due to the buoyancy created from the trapped methane gasses inside the tire. Also, these methane gasses have a negative effect on the landfill liners which have been put into place in order to stop the contents of the landfill site from cross contaminating with the surrounding local surfaces and groundwater. 


Tire Stockpiles


Stockpiling tires is a very common method of tire disposal. In 1990, it was estimated that there were over 1 billion scrap tires in stockpiles in the US alone. Thankfully, there has been a lot of work done to heavily reduce this number, with stats showing that in 2015 a mere 67 million tires remained in stockpiles across the country. While this is still a large number, it is a fraction of the size it once was, showing the positive progress being made every year. Stockpiles can have many dangerous aspects to them. The main risk of stockpiling tires is the huge fires which can occur, which can last for several months while not only polluting the air, but also the ground around them. 

Further health risks associated with tire stockpiles include providing the perfect habitat for vermin, as well as the breeding ground for mosquitoes that are able to carry a great number of diseases. The illegal dumping of scrap tires has become a growing problem across the US. Illegal dumping can lead to mass pollution of forests, ravines, woods, deserts as well as the surrounding area which it is dumped in. This has led to many US states forming regulations surrounding tire dumping, meaning proper management of tire stockpile disposal areas is mandatory. 


Recycling of Scrap Tires


One key product which can be made from the scrap tires is cement. Old tires can be used as an alternative fuel in the manufacturing of cement, a key ingredient in concrete. The old tires are placed into a kiln, where the high gas temperatures cause the scrap tires to combust almost instantly. Furthermore, if the tires are steel-belted, this gives manufacturers a further benefit, since iron is another key component in the manufacturing process of cement. 

Every year, manufacturers look to create new products from scrap tires, since there are around 2.6 million tonnes of tires scrapped per year, finding products which can use this material to recycle it into something useful, while also being more economically efficient than combustion without generating as much pollution. Scrap tires can often be used in civil engineering and other construction materials. For example, entire homes can be built with whole tires by filling them with earth and covering them with concrete, a common material in earth ships. Furthermore, ground and crumb rubber can be used in the production of pavements and other surfaces such as rubber modified asphalt and rubber modified concrete.


Alternative uses for old tires


Old tires can also be repurposed for other uses around peoples’ homes and other spaces. The most common repurposes of tires include making swings, using them for fitness use, such as flipping tires and use by assault courses. Farmers may use old tires to use as troughs for their cattle by placing them over natural streams or springs. Motor racing often stack old tires to use as barriers as they are ideal due to their durability and resistance upon potential impact with fast moving cars. 


Underwater disposal? 


The Osborne Reef is an artificial reef that was created off the coast of Florida. In the 1970s, it was planned that this artificial reef could be created in order to provide a large dumping place for the mass amount of scrap tired the country would produce. On top of this, it was hoped that marine wildlife could use the tires as a new habitat, and that the reef would become an efficient use of tire disposal in multiplying the number of marine animal lives that could be housed in a smaller amount of space. Ultimately, the plan failed, as the steel bands which were holding the tires together began to erode, ultimately meaning they came loose, leaving millions of individual tires to come apart and float about the bottom of the reef. This also meant any marine wildlife which was able to live in the reef before, was subsequently killed or pushed out meaning no new organisms were able to form in the water. 


Summary


The world of tire disposal is one that comes with many challenges. For the last decades, tire disposal as a whole has created some serious problems on our planet, with pollution being the main issue exacerbated by scrap tires. On the other hand, there have been some amazing steps taken by different groups and organisations which have led to great advancements in the recycling, repurposing and sustainability in the tire industry.  

The largest group dealing with tire sustainability is the US Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA). This collective includes large tire manufacturers such as Michelin, Pirelli, Bridgestone, Continental, Goodyear and many more of the tire market leaders. Furthermore, they all band together under one objective: sustainable manufacturing. USTMA defines this as “Advancing safety through innovation, reducing environmental footprints, eliminating historical scrap tire stockpiles while growing economically and environmentally friendly scrap tire markets, increasing worker safety and being responsible corporate citizens.” 

These corporations also combine in a project conducted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Their project, labelled ‘Tire industry Project’, considers the potential health and environmental impacts of materials associated with tire making and use. The 11 large companies included in WBCSD’s Tire Industry Project all work towards solutions for a sustainable future on issues such as end of life tire management, tire and road wear particles along with sustainable natural rubber.