Tire News & Information

How to Recycle Tires

Last updated 1/20/2023 - Originally published 9/24/2020
Written by SimpleTire

Once an automotive tire is worn out, it’s just simply unsafe to drive on anymore. A worn tire means no traction and a good chance of it failing at highway speed and, unlike tires for heavy trucks, automotive tires can’t be retreaded and reused. That’s where tire disposal becomes a major concern.

Scrap tires are an environmental nightmare. You’ve probably seen pictures of thousands and thousands of tires stacked into mountains. For instance, a few years ago, Colorado was home to about 60 million scrap tires. Tire dumps are more than an eyesore, as they generate chemical runoff, they’re breeding grounds for mosquitoes and fires, some of which start spontaneously and can literally burn for years, being nearly impossible to extinguish. The good news is that the number of scrap tires in the US is dropping from a high of about a billion back in 1990. Today, upwards of 70 percent of tires are recycled, and more and more ways to repurpose and process tires are being discovered all the time.

The benefits of recycling tires

Disposing of used tires properly and recycling them means that they’re being handled responsibly and often are repurposed into other useful products. Keeping tires out of landfills (or worse, illegal dumping sites) means that a whole range of potential environmental problems are being headed off, and you have the peace of mind of knowing that you aren’t contributing to those problems.

Where to Recycle Tires

When it’s time to get new tires installed, your tire retailer will dispose of the old tires so they’re out-of-sight and out-of-mind for you, but that’s not the only way to recycle tires. Your city’s solid waste management department might do a bulk pickup a few times a year, so check to see if used tires are permissible. There also might be a city-sponsored site or a local recycling company that can take used, scrap tires off your hands.

Other Places Where You Can Recycle Tires

Depending on where you live, there might be other recycling companies that handle solid waste (including electronic waste) that has toxic byproducts and needs to be dealt with carefully. Sometimes these recycling firms might take tires, although they might charge a small fee. In addition, automotive dealerships might take in tires for recycling, so speak to a service manager to find out.

Disadvantages of landfills

Landfills present a lot of environmental problems regardless of what’s being disposed of in them, whether it’s household trash, industrial waste, tires or anything else. Aside from the environmental risks involved, scrap tires take up a lot of valuable space in landfills. They can’t be compacted due to their structure and shape, and they tend to trap methane and other gasses that can bubble up through the layers of landfill debris and cause all kinds of problems. Like plastic products, tires can take hundreds of years to break down and decompose naturally. Worse still, there are heavy metals in rubber compounds that can leak out over time and contaminate landfills.

Most landfills have a liner that traps runoff and prevents it from polluting local groundwater. Tires, unfortunately, can damage and penetrate these liners, making them useless. In addition, tires are notorious for trapping water and becoming breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The good news is that recycled tires have all kinds of uses, with more uses being developed all the time.

What are recycled tires commonly turned into?

Tires can be ground up into particles the size of bread crumbs, used as fuel, or broken down into their polymers by heat in an oxygen-free environment. Through some processes, the oil in tires can be reclaimed, along with the steel in the belts and the fabric cord layers.

Here are just a few of the applications for recycled tires:

  • Artificial reefs
  • Construction material and civil engineering applications, such as erosion control, roadside sound barriers, retaining walls, backfill, slope stabilization, asphalt patch, rubber-modified asphalt, and road base
  • Upholstery, carpeting, and other automotive products
  • Crumb-rubber can be reused in manufacturing new tires, including the carbon black that’s a key ingredient of any tire formulation
  • Crumb-rubber might be reused in making speed bumps, railroad crossing beds, dock bumpers, carpet pads, patio decks, athletic mats, basketball courts, playground base, pallets, flooring material, sidewalks, synthetic turf, and even concrete and stucco
  • Shoes and clothing
  • Carbon source for steel mills and other manufacturing processes

There’s always going to be more scrap tires, meaning there will always be a need for recycling or disposing of them responsibly. That means there’s always going to be a need for innovation when it comes to finding new ways to manage and handle scrap tires.

Tires might be recycled and repurposed into construction materials, consumer products, civil engineering materials, fuel, chemicals, and a whole host of other uses, with more innovations in tire recycling coming along every year.

Not directly, but the materials in tires can be broken down and reused to make new tires. Many tire manufacturers are aware of the environmental issues in their manufacturing processes and are designing environmentally-friendly tires that use recycled crumb rubber and carbon from old tires, as well as citrus-based oils, sunflower oils and even ground-up walnut shells as part of their rubber formulations.

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