Can Tires Be Recycled?

Thanks to technology and rise in awareness, old tires are now being used to their full potential. They can be a source of fuel, used to make artificial turf and used as equipment for playgrounds, etc. 

In the past, a majority of these used tires ended up in landfills, and became breeding grounds for mosquitos and rodents – but not anymore.

According to the Rubber Manufacturing Association and EPA, more than 290 million tires are discarded every year in the U.S., and 80% of these tires (233 million) are recycled. From 1991 to 2017, the stockpile of scrap tires has decreased by 94%, as they are being recycled rapidly. 

Read on to learn what to do with your old tires.

What Is Tire Recycling?

Car owners are encouraged to replace their tires every six years to ensure a safe and comfortable drive. 

These tires go through a lot of abuse over these years –from potholes to pebbles, from sleet to snow and a lot more! 

So it’s safe to say that once retired, the tires aren’t good for much else. 

Tire recycling, aka rubber recycling, is the perfect way to get rid of old tires and put them to good use. These waste tires can in no way be used on vehicles alone because often they’ve suffered irreparable damage. 

Tires are non-biodegradable — they do not break down, nor can they be reduced like plastic or metal. This poses a problem as they fill landfills — utilizing the space and negatively affecting the environment. 

However, not all old tires end up as swings in playgrounds; they can be converted into many useful items.

By recycling, unwanted tires are converted into materials that can be used in the production of new products.

Tire Recycling Fee

When buying aftermarket tires, you may notice an item on the receipt “Tire Recycling Fee,” what is that, and why should you be paying it?

Basically, the fee is charged when you sell a tire, or when you are disposing of old tires because you’ll be buying a new set.

The fact is that this fee funds the disposal of old tires, and it does not matter if they end up in a landfill or are recycled. 

The fee or tax is quite low, but remember, it may differ from state to state.

How Are Old Tires Reused

A tire can be broken down, and each component can be reused differently.

For starters, the tire can be turned into fuel via a process called pyrolysis. Then there’s also devulcanization — a process that removes the sulfur from a waste tire to make it harder. 

A lot can be done with tires that have reached their end-of-life. Perhaps this is why in recent times, many states have introduced tire recycle programs. 

Here are some of the ways waste tires are put to good use:

  • Alternatives for stone in construction
  • A source of fuel in mills and power plants — TDF AKA tire-derived fuel
  • Synthetic turfs — a better, more environmentally friendly alternative to natural grass
  • Rubber mulch that reduces fungus, mold, and mildew and helps the soil retain water
  • A source of rubber for the manufacturing of new tires, etc.

The Recycling Process

The process of recycling old tires involves the following steps:

Disassembling

To keep the tire sturdy across its usable life, wires (nylon, steel, etc.) are embedded in the rubber. When recycling, the first step is to remove the wires. These metal wires can also be revived and reused in the manufacturing of other goods.

Processing The Rubber

The wireless rubber is cut into two-inch pieces, which are then lazed with chemicals for the creation of granules, power, etc. This is made possible via any of the below-mentioned processes:

  • Cryogenic: liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the rubber, which is then broken down with a hammer. All residual metals are removed via a powerful magnet, and air classifiers are used to eliminate other fibers 
  • Mechanical: the tire is put through a machine where it is cut into many pieces, and the size of the created pieces is regulated

Screening

This stage is essential for efficient results. Screening ensures that all that is left is pure rubber without other contaminants such as metal.

Furthermore, while screening, all same-sized pieces are grouped.

Clean Up

Once screening is complete, the processed rubber is then cleaned. Then this rubber is dried, packed, sold, and dispatched to any company that requires it.

Why Is Putting Tires Into Landfills Discouraged?

Here are some of the many reasons why recycling is the best bet for worn-out tires:

  • Snakes, rodents, ticks, and other dangerous animals can make their homes in the heaps of discarded tires
  • If on fire, they can burn for months at a stretch,
  • They catch fire quickly, can burn for months, and are almost impossible to extinguish. What’s alarming is that extinguishing the fire is next to impossible
  • Piled up tires are dangerous for people — they can roll over can hit people in proximity. Just imagine how dangerous it may be if a tractor or truck tire rams over someone
  • When they come in contact with groundwater, it gets contaminated
  • A tire left idle for a while can trap gases like methane, which can be dangerous

Since tires do not degrade over time, they can occupy most of the landfill, which leaves you with less space for other junk.

The Bottom Line

From over overcrowding of landfills and soil contamination, to fire risk and pest housing, and much more—a lot can go wrong if tires are discarded instead of getting recycled and reused.

Therefore, be a good Samaritan and show your gratitude to Mother Nature by disposing of your old tires responsibly.

Make sure you know a reliable tire recycling center where you can drop off the old tires to ensure that they don’t end up in a landfill.

Additionally, why not think of it as a thriving business idea? Collect tires, process them, and sell to people who need the metal and the rubber – if done right, you can make a fortune.

Photo credit: TOM KAROLA/Shutterstock

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