Scrap Tires and Rubber Recycling

The early wheel was very simple...a solid curved piece of wood. Leather was eventually added to soften the ride. Another innovation was a metal strip around the edge to make the wood last longer (remember wagon wheels?).

Now we have rubber tires. Rubber was not always as useful as it is today. Early rubber did not hold shape; it would be sticky in hot weather and become inflexible in the cold. In 1839 Charles Goodyear was credited with the discovery of vulcanization (the process of heating rubber with sulfur). This transforms sticky raw rubber into a firm, pliable material perfect for tires.

This "perfect" material creates a long-lasting product (a good thing) that can be difficult to handle at the end of its life (a not-so-good thing). There are 20 million scrap tires generated annually in Canada, equivalent in weight to approximately 28 million passenger tires.

Environmental problems with tires include the hazards created when they catch fire and the potential for a breeding ground for vermin or other pests. Scrap tires also create unique problems for landfill operators. They take up a considerable amount of space and do not compact or biodegrade. Whole tires also "float" to the top of the landfill, over time, and often break through liners or closure caps.

In addition to potential problems from stockpiling or landfilling scrap tires, these practices miss out on the opportunity to make use of a valuable resource.

Recycled rubber is suitable for reuse as tires only in small quantities. The current thinking is that new tires can be manufactured with as much as 10% recycled content (that is, old tires) without sacrificing tire durability or driving performance.

A vast number of other useful products are being made in the world. At the very least, we can take advantage of scrap tires' high BTU value and use them as a industrial energy source.

We are fortunate in Saskatchewan to have the Sask. Scrap Tire Corporation, which handles all the tires currently being generated. They've also cleaned up municipal tire stockpiles and are working on private stockpiles (as of 2009).

(Last updated Feb. 2010)