Scrap tire recycling markets not keeping pace with generation, report shows

Scrap tire recycling markets not keeping pace with generation, report shows

A U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association report reveals that almost 76 percent of scrap tires were recycled in products such as rubber-modified asphalt, automotive products, mulch for landscaping, and tire-derived fuel in 2019. This is down from 96 percent in 2013, when scrap tire recycling peaked.

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October 16, 2020

The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) released its 2019 Scrap Tire Management Report on Oct. 14. According to the report, while tires remain one of the most recycled products in the U.S., end-of-life markets are not keeping pace with the annual generation of scrap tires.

The report reveals that almost 76 percent of scrap tires were recycled in products such as rubber-modified asphalt, automotive products, mulch for landscaping, and tire-derived fuel in 2019. This is down from 96 percent in 2013, when scrap tire recycling peaked.

“Three decades after we successfully eliminated 94 percent of the over 1 billion scrap tires stockpiled around the country, this report reveals that efforts to find and develop new uses for scrap tires have stalled,” Anne Forristall Luke, president and CEO of USTMA, says. “We must take immediate steps to grow new and existing markets to recycle 100 percent of scrap tires. This not only protects our health and the environment—it drives innovation and jobs.”

While the number of scrap tires generated each year grew by almost 7 percent, the total number of scrap tires recycled or reclaimed has not significantly changed since 2017.

The report found that 56 million scrap tires remain in stockpiles, mostly in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia and Washington. According to the association, half of which–New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas and Virginia—do not have active stockpile cleanup programs.

USTMA and its members work with state regulators, recyclers and other stakeholders to manage scrap tires and develop recycle and reuse markets.

According to the association, companies like France-based Michelin, Japan-based Bridgestone and Germany-based Continental use recycled carbon black (rCB) to produce new tires. Michelin has also partnered with Sweden-based Scandanavian Enviro Systems to increase end-of-life tire recycling using a pyrolysis process which converts scrap tires to new raw materials. Bridgestone has joined with Delta-Energy Group, Natchez, Mississippi, to bring at-scale use of rCB to the tire market, and Continental works with Pyrolyx, Munich, to help tire manufacturers scale up the production of rCB from scrap tires for use in products ranging from mobile phones to ink pens.

As part of its report, USTMA urged state regulators and federal lawmakers as well as recyclers, industry and environmental groups, and academic partners to do more to advance a circular economy.

Specifically, USTMA listed the following criteria for advancing a circular economy: 

  • States must resist the urge to shift scrap tire funds away from their intended purpose: to grow scrap tire reuse and recycle markets, clean up piles and enforce state laws. USTMA supports reasonable fees on the sale of new tires to manage state programs, like those collected in 35 states.
  • New public and private sector investments are needed to meet innovation challenges, research the lifecycle impacts of scrap tires in different end use markets, and create a national portal for states to share data.
  • State and federal policies should encourage the growth of reuse and recycle markets including investments in sustainable infrastructure like rubber-modified asphalt and stormwater infiltration galleries, changes in state transportation specifications to allow the use of rubber-modified asphalt, and consideration of scrap tires in climate policies.