Closing the Gap: Why – and How – We’re Striving for 100% Sustainable Use of Scrap Tires

Out of sight, out of mind.

For many consumers, this is the predominant view of tire disposal – if the process is thought of at all. We purchase and install new tires, depend on them for several thousand miles and then get new tires – likely not stopping to think about what happens (or should happen) to the old tires.

At the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA), we know how important proper scrap tire disposal is. More than 287 million scrap tires are discarded in the United States each year. Of these, about 81 percent go to beneficial end uses.

Today’s Scrap Tire Markets

As a leader in the space, the USTMA is committed to identifying and encouraging the development of new and existing end-use markets that help to advance the circular economy – the practice of reusing or repurposing tire materials for other products to extend the life cycle of those resources. A few examples of end-use markets include:

  • Tire-derived fuel: For cement kilns, pulp and paper mills and electric utility boilers, scrap tires – with their high heat generation, lowered level of greenhouse gas impact compared to coal and heavy liquid fuel oil and, finally, their biogenic fraction of 24% – using tire-derived fuel (TDF) has proven a clean, economically friendly fuel alternative. A bonus advantage of using TDF combustors is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and some states recognize the biogenic fraction in TDF as carbon neutral, lowering its GHG impact.
  • Ground Rubber: Ground rubber produced from scrap tires constitutes about 25% of the country’s scrap tire market. After the rubber is produced, the material is adapted for several uses, including new rubber products, landscaping mulch, rubber mats and rubber-modified asphalt.
  • Civil Engineering: The field of civil engineering has benefited significantly from the reuse of scrap tires. The materials produced have supported road and landfill construction and septic tank leach fields and have served as an alternative daily cover for landfills, stormwater infiltration galleries and many other construction applications. Tire shreds also have helped to control sound along roadways, prevent erosion and landslides, filter water from roadways and facilitate drainage in septic, leachate and landfill gas systems.

New Uses for Scrap Tires

As an industry, we support the development and growth of scrap tire end-use markets that will help achieve a circular economy, such as:

  • Micronized Rubber Powder: Through a process called cryogenic grinding, scrap tires can be used in place of carbon black in the manufacturing of new tires. While micronized rubber powder reflects the strong potential of the circular economy for tires, there are limitations for using micronized rubber powder.
  • Rubber Modified Asphalt: A proven end-use for scrap tires, rubber modified asphalt has already outperformed standard asphalt. It is a durable option that lasts longer, withstanding cracking and rutting while reducing road noise and cutting maintenance costs. The best part? It’s an efficient use of scrap tires – a 2” overlay for one mile of one-lane road recycles over 2,000 scrap tires.
  • Depolymerization, Pyrolysis, Devulcanization: Depolymerization, pyrolysis and devulcanization are valuable conversion technologies that transform scrap tires into raw materials to be used to manufacture new tires and rubber and plastic products.

Reaching 100% -- How We Can Close the Gap

End-use markets rely on innovation and collaboration.

While the challenge can be complex, our mission is simple: Our members’ goal is that 100 percent of scrap tires enter sustainable end-use markets.

According to our 2017 scrap tire market report, approximately 81 percent of tires currently go to end-use markets. While we’re encouraged by this improvement, we are still about 19% away from our goal. USTMA will continue to support the development of end-use markets and innovation to grow new and emerging markets. We will continue to highlight the need for scrap tire markets to keep it top of mind for industry, government leaders and consumers, and encourage states to take an active role in researching and developing new markets to drive economic and environmental sustainability in our industry and the communities we serve.

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