Solutions for tire re-use and recycling are a priority

—James L. Schrack

Rubber products, be they tires or industrial and consumer products, are an ever present feature of the North American consumer lifestyle. Finding efficient ways to re-use and recycle rubber has gained serious traction, and an important element of that process is product stewardship.

To discuss product stewardship issues concerning rubber and other products, American Recycler spoke with James L. Schrack, director of product sustainability for the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI).

As part of an economic and environmentally sound approach, tire producers are expected to take responsibility for their products, through the end-of-life. How do you feel the industry is responding to this obligation?

Schrack: The industry recognizes that if improperly handled, scrap tires can be a threat to the environment and strongly supports programs to clean up scrap tire stockpiles and promotes training of fire service personnel to deal with scrap tire fires. The ultimate goal of managing tires is to reduce waste and find value-added markets for waste tires with economic value so that no extra funds are needed to manage the product.

PSI has worked with industry as a stakeholder to develop strategies for producer responsibility.

PSI is involved with many product categories and has developed a set of principles that include financial responsibility. Are there examples of systems structured for other products that are applicable to products produced by the rubber industry?

Schrack: A couple models include the approach developed for carpet, which uses performance goals and the Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corportation offers a cost internalization model. There are examples from Canadian provinces that are also good guides for the United States tire industry.

Cost internalization, eco-fees, and direct assessments on manufacturers are being considered for paint products.

Several states have addressed producer responsibility specific to their states. Will the best legislative solutions utilize a state-by-state approach instead of national legislation?

Schrack: National legislation for products may be more efficient for the stakeholders, but PSI understands that there are state-by-state issues and the systems being used in each state will not be changed. PSI recommends harmonization of the state approaches wherever possible.

PSI has worked with stakeholders to develop a set of Framework Principles for product stewardship covering producer responsibility, retailers, government and consumer responsibilities, incentives for cleaner products and sustainable management practices, flexible management strategies, governance structure, financing and environmental protection. These principles would ideally be incorporated into any legislation that is developed, either on a state or national level.

What are some of the strategies that PSI has developed to the environmental concern of scrap tires?

Schrack: Here is a list of the issues, solutions and strategies PSI helped develop through a collaborative process.

Concerning waste tire generation, the solution is to increase the lifespan of tires by: increasing consumer education on tire maintenance, providing free and convenient pressure gauges and air for tire maintenance, installing “smart tire” systems on new vehicles, manufacturing longer lasting tires, encouraging consumers to buy longer-life tires, developing a unified approach to optimal tire pressure and encouraging proper wheel alignment on the vehicle.

Waste tire markets can be stimulated by developing set measurable goals for market development and reducing disposal, conducting life cycle assessment among different market opportunities, and evaluating regulatory barriers.

On the issue of tire reuse, retread and remold, the solution is to increase reuse and retread markets by promoting use among fleets, reducing liability concerns over reused tires, promoting tire repair and education on maintenance of truck tires to increase retreadability.

Crumb rubber markets can be stimulated by developing sustainable and diversified markets by promoting existing specifications for crumb rubber, overcoming perception related to inferior quality of recycled content tires, researching and developing strategies to overcome technical barriers to using crumb rubber as a raw material, offering equipment grants, and providing marketing aid for California tire-derived product manufacturers.

Increasing the percentage of recycled content in new tire manufacture can be accomplished by conducting research on technologies, providing financial incentives to increase demand for recycled rubber, developing recycled-content tire procurement specifications along with a strategy for procurement of recycled-content tires and molded products, and providing incentives to manufacturers to use recycled content.

Shredded tire markets can be improved by increasing the civil engineering applications for shredded tires, providing education and information on benefits of using waste tire shreds in landfill applications, educating transportation officials about ASTM specifications for tire shreds, allow for, and promote waste tire use in local septic fields/drainage through local ordinances and state rule, and education about specifications to increase the use of tires in road base.