More than 300 million tires are discarded annually
in the United States.
Michael Blumenthal, a vice president of the Rubber
Manufacturers Association (RMA), not only monitors
the amount of tires that are discarded and how
they are recycled and reused, but also has a role
in helping to find alternative uses for the rubber
and bring together the various stakeholders to
find effective solutions.
Are steps being taken to tackle the issue of the
stockpiled tires that were discarded in the past?
Blumenthal: The last time that
we did a market survey, which was in 2007, we found
that nearly 90 percent of all the tires generated
annually are going to an end-use market. At that
time there were only 128 million tires remaining
in stockpiles. When you consider that we started
with over 1 billion in stockpiles that is a tremendous
decrease. Since we did the last market survey,
the number of tires in stockpiles decreased even
further. I’m confident there are less than 100
million remaining in these stockpiles.
Is the use of tire-derived-fuel (TDF) increasing
or declining? Does the use of this alternative
fuel source continue to raise objections? Have
measures been developed to make it a cleaner burning
Blumenthal: Over the last one and a half years,
the number of tires going to TDF has decreased
a little bit because a number of cement kilns or
the cogeneration plants that were using TDF, have
closed because of the recession. The current rate
of tires used as TDF is around 52 percent. There
are a good number of users still making use of
TDF, but the increases were not enough to offset
the decreases. Is this going to be a temporary
situation? It all depends upon how quickly and
how strong the economy comes back. If it doesn’t
come back in a way that gets the construction industry
going, we won’t see too many cement kilns come
on-line and that is going to have an impact on
the overall percentage of tires used as fuel.
The air pollution control technology remains about
the same. TDF is a relatively clear burning fuel.
People have gotten to a great level of hysteria
about TDF and there are myths about the fact that
if you use TDF, you will turn your smoke black.
That is not true. Tires burn hot and burn clean,
so they have always been a relatively clean burning
To what extent has the RMA been successful, working
with the industry to develop more efficient systems
for tire collection and storage?
Blumenthal: These issues are dealt
with by the industry itself. The industry has developed
a very efficient transportation and processing
capacity on its own. What the RMA has done is to
work with state regulatory agencies to make sure
that the regulations are enforced – enforcement
is the most important thing a state can do to maintain
the collection and processing efficiencies. We
have worked with the International Fire Code and
the National Fire Protection Association on outdoor
and indoor storage regulations of tires.
Are citizens, businesses and government aware of
the issues surrounding the recycling of tires and
what more can be done to address the problem?
Blumenthal: The vast majority
of the people working at the federal, state and
local agencies, as well as the public, are really
not aware of what is going on in the scrap tire
industry, what the issues are and what needs to
be done. There are a small number of people at
the federal and state level working with the issue
of scrap tires, but when you look at the overall
marketplace for secondary products, scrap tires
are typically not a priority for most states or
municipalities. This is because the industry is
handling the problem and the amount of tires produced
are overwhelmed by larger issues such as e-waste
recycling and municipal recycling.
Some state governments charge an advance disposal
fee (ADF) in the price of tires. Do these fees
reflect the true cost? Would a nationwide fee on
tires help to create funding for grants to deal
with discarded tires?
Blumenthal: I don’t think that we’ll see a federal
fee on tires. A good number of states have cleaned
up their tire stockpiles and have markets for all
their tires and they won’t want to see new fees.
The ADF that a state charges is not used for collection
or processing of tires – that fee goes to the state
agencies for the abatement of stockpiles, market
development projects and enforcing the regulations.
The cost of disposal is reflected in the disposal
fees that the retailers assess consumers when they
buy a new set of tires. That money – $3 per passenger
car tire – are used to cover the cost of transporting
the tire from the point of purchase to the tire
processor, because there are still negative costs
when the processor gets the tire. The idea is to
turn the tire into a higher value added product
and then sell it to the market place. That helps
the economics, so the fees that the states assess,
are not a true indicator of the costs of disposal.