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August 2, 2017

A Good Year For The Tire And What That Means For Recycling

2016 was a good year for car sales. In fact, a Business Insider article listed 2016 as a record breaking year in terms of vehicles sold across the globe. In other figures provided by Macquarie Research, we see a 4.8 percent increase in the car market from the year before.

Countries leading this buying charge? China was at the forefront by a wide margin, which helped to offset declines in car sales in Brazil, Japan, and Russia.

When car sales go up, it follows that tire consumption also rises. Statistic Brain reported that the annual amount of tire sales for cars reached 32.1 billion. This is not including sales for farming tires, off road tires, heavy truck tires, or other passenger vehicle tires.

An increase in car sales typically equals a demand for tires, which subsequently results in scrap tires. One estimate had over 300 million scraptires produced in a single year. Tires are considered unusable when their treads become worn or the wheel itself gets punctured. How soon this happens depends on factors such as heat, mileage, and whether an owner r
otates the wheels or not. Car manufacturer, Mercedes Benz recommends replacing tires after six years. And Nissan recommends tire replacement after 7500 miles.

What this means for tire recycling

Tires are made of composite materials, which make them a recycling challenge. Made of steel, rubber, and carbon black, including other materials, tires can’t be dropped off at your average recycling center. This is partly due to limited equipment and manpower. And that tire rubber is not 100 percent rubber, which makes it a poor source for recycled rubber products. Instead, most tires find their way to tire scrap yards and landfills.

This is not a positive solution, as tires are not biodegradable. They have also been found to leach chemicals into the ground. And during rains, their shape causes them to attract mosquitoes and rodents. Another problem for landfills is that tires are highly flammable. Because tires have a large oil component, they pose wildfire and other fire-related risks.

The Balance states that estimates for scrap tires in landfills and stockpiles around the world are at four billion. Efforts to repurpose tires, however, are being made and have been gaining traction since 2003. Waste 360 reports an 87 percent reduction in scrapped tires in landfills and tire yards since 1990.

Popular methods for reusing tires and keeping them out of landfills include the following:

Ground rubber applications. Tires are broken down into "crumbs" and used as asphalt rubber, which accounts for recycling 12 million tires per year. Other ground rubber uses include for running tracks, playground tiles, and rubber mats for exercise. Playground equipment is a particularly popular option for repurposing ground rubber.

Engineering applications. Tires are shredded and used as insulation blocks, or for drainage purposes and other types of building work. They can also be used in septic tank leach fields and raw material for other construction applications.

Tire derived fuel. According to Eco Green Equipment, leading tire shredders, "The largest market for recycled tires is that of tire-derived fuel. With the right chemical process, all that oil can be retrieved from the rubber for use as fuel, and this works much more effectively on small shreds than whole tires. Tire-derived fuel is both cheaper and cleaner than coal, and as fuel prices have risen, demand for these kinds of alternatives have increased dramatically." The tire derived fuel market helped to recycle 117 million scrap tires in 2015.

Whole tire uses. Along with the craft and DIY boom that has taken hold of the US, consumers have found inventive ways to repurpose whole tires. From pet beds to sandboxes to ottomans and more. While this might not be an option for corporations, individuals are finding crafty ways to keep tires out of landfills.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of EconMatters.

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