It seems like every year the general population becomes more and more conscious of our impact on the environment and consumers continue to make efforts to recycle – and that’s a great thing! Unfortunately, some recyclable items and materials are sent to landfills anyway due to lack of knowledge or convenience, and those items sit and pollute the environment for years. Automotive tires are unfortunately one of those frequently-trashed items, even though there are many ways to recycle and repurpose tires that reached the end of their practical life. This article will look at some of the numbers involved in tire waste and recycling, as well as some of the many ways tires can be recycled.
The very same durability that makes tires great during their functional lifespan is unfortunately their biggest downfall when they aren’t properly recycled. Due to their shape and durability, tires tend to become homes and breeding grounds for rats, mosquitoes, and other pests when they sit in landfills. Not only that, but their size and shape make them awkward and space-consuming in landfills, and they can trap gases that later bubble up and rupture landfill linings. In short, we really don’t want tires sitting in our landfills, on sides of roads, or in fields somewhere.
Some places try to cheaply solve the problem of having tires piles up and sitting around by burning them. Unfortunately, this really isn’t a great solution. Sure, it solves the problem of having tires sitting around and costs virtually nothing, but if you’ve ever seen the black smoke that comes from burning tires, you’ll know there’s no way that it’s by any means a “clean” way to get rid of the tires. Oil and other toxic compounds are used in making tires and burning them releases them into the air and environment. Plus, since tires last so long, they have plenty of other uses they can be recycled into once their usefulness on the road ends.
Each year in America, nearly 300 million tires reach the end of their functional life on the road and are discarded. To be more exact, the EPA stated that in 2017, about 294.4 million scrap tires came from the U.S. Luckily, due to increased awareness about recycling, the majority of those tires were responsibly disposed of and recycled, although about 16% still made their way into landfills. About 16 million tires are retreaded, or repurposed into new tires, but that only accounts for a small portion of the tires discarded each year. So, where do all those recycled tires go?
You’ve probably seen some recycled tires already on farms, playgrounds (as tire swings), in artwork, as bumpers on docks, or even as flower beds or gardens before. The very same durability and odd shape that make tires a costly nuisance at the landfill are what make tires a great material for creative people looking for ways to reuse and recycle materials, although this only accounts for a portion of recycled tires.
Next, using up about 8% of the tires recycled each year, are Civil engineering projects. These include things like roadway embankments, drainage fillers, insulation, bedding under roads, and so on. Here, the rubber is often shredded and used to replace various plastics and polystyrene that would otherwise be used. An added benefit to using tires in this way is that most Civil engineering uses for recycled rubber require lower cleanliness standards, meaning old and dirty tires still have a chance at being repurposed responsibly.
Moving up the ladder, recycling tire rubber for various ground applications accounts for roughly 25% of the tires recycled each year. Ground applications encompass a variety of things, some of which you’ve probably seen yourself. Recycled and shredded rubber can be used as a long-lasting and softer alternative to woodchips on playgrounds, and when further ground down it is used as bedding and artificial dirt on indoor sports fields. Taking things another direction, recycled rubber can also be used as an ingredient in the concrete and asphalt we use to pave roads and sidewalks. What may surprise you most, however, is the leading use for recycled tires.
To the surprise of many, on average 43% of the tires recycled each year in the U.S. are used as tire-derived fuel (TDF) in industrial practices. According to the EPA, those very same tires that can harm the environment when simply burned, when carefully cleaned and used in accordance to guidelines set by the EPA, are actually a viable alternative to other fuels like coal. In fact, the EPA reports that, when in accordance with their guidelines, TDFs can actually burn cleaner than coal and produce 25% more energy!
Overall, although there is an enormous number of tires reaching the end of their lives each year, more and more people are making an effort to recycle their tires, and we’re finding more ways to repurpose old tires. Between being an alternative fuel source in industrial uses, being an ingredient in Civil engineering projects, or simply being repurposed as other tires or creative projects, there are plenty of options for those looking for a way to reuse their old tires. Hopefully, with the continued effort from people around the country, we can continue to find new ways to recycle old tires and reduce the number of tires that end up in landfills each year.
At Holbrook Auto Parts we take pride in selling tested repurposed tires to our customers at discounted prices, and responsibly recycling the tires that can’t be salvaged. If you’re looking for a way to do your part in tire recycling, take the first step and save some money by considering pre-owned tires from Holbrook next time your tread looks worn down!
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