ST. MARTIN, Minn.-What is up to 13 feet tall, weighs 12,000 pounds and is more difficult to get rid of than last month's corned beef? You're right if you answered ``a worn-out off-the-road tire.''
Nevertheless, Monitor Tire Disposal Inc. in St. Martin, a small community near St. Cloud, Minn., not only welcomes these huge, unwanted scrap tires-but operates what it believes may be the country's only facility for recycling them.
As dealers are well aware, scrap tires of any size can be costly and difficult to dispose of legally-and this task gets no easier or cheaper when the tires being scrapped are giant size.
Disposal frequently involves cutting the huge tires into manageable pieces for burial in an environmentally approved landfill. In other cases, OTR tires are buried whole-with or without the approval of environmental authorities-or simply abandoned to become an eyesore and potential hazard to health and safety.
However, Monitor Tire Disposal offers what it considers a better and more profitable alternative for getting rid of them: recycling them.
According to CEO Art Binsfeld, the company is one of the few-if not the only-such operations in North America shredding OTR tires into tire-derived fuel (TDF) for the boilers of power plants and other industrial users.
``I think we're the only people doing it,'' said Mr. Binsfeld, who launched the company seven years ago out of his interest in environmental affairs.
``Other (companies) are experimenting with it, but we've been (shredding OTR tires) on a regular basis for two years.''
The company, which processes passenger and truck as well as OTR tires, has developed a system he says will accomodate every size tire currently in use, from the smallest to the largest.
Last year, Monitor Tire processed about 12,000 tons of TDF-about half of it from OTR tires, according to Mr. Binsfeld, a former U.S. Navy commander who retired in 1967 after 25 years' service dating back to World War II.
Bored in retirement, Mr. Binsfeld said he became active in environmental issues in his home state of Minnesota. Ultimately, he decided to re-enter the work-a-day world in order to tackle the problem of tire disposal-including giant OTR tires such as those used in Minnesota's Mesabi iron mines 100 miles to the north.
His decision led to the development of specialized equipment and a new recycling process he says is unique to the company's ``state-of-the-art'' facility in St. Martin.
``We've had delegations from all over the world'' come here to view the process, Mr. Binsfeld said-some from as far away as Thailand and Japan.
Tires entering the company's processing stream are first subjected to a giant, sizzor-like shear that cuts them into 600-pound pieces. These pieces, in turn, are run through a series of six shredders, reducing them finally to pieces 2 inches or less in size.
Within a year or so, according to Mr. Binsfeld, the company hopes to be able to further reduce these tire particles to a size small enough to be mixed into rubberized asphalt, which federal regulations are requiring the states to use more of in highway construction.
Most TDF produced and sold by the company is burned as a less costly alternative to coal in electrical generating plants, such as that operated by Ottertail Power Co. in Big Stone City, S.D.
Scrap tires processed by the company come mostly from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of Michigan and Ontario.
Customers bring their unwanted OTR tires to the company's processing site by truck, generally in lots of no more than four at a time because of their huge size.
Tires being transported through a rain storm actually pick up so much weight that the trucks can become overloaded, Mr. Binsfeld said.
``When we got into this business, tipping fees were $250 per ton and the tires were being buried in a landfill,'' he said.
By contrast, ``we charge only $135 a ton and everything goes to a fully pollution-controlled and agency-approved market-power plants.''
In this way, customers needn't worry about the tires turning up later in a government-mandated site clean-up.
Mr. Binsfeld said the company is now looking for joint-venture partners to undertake development of a mobile version of its processing system. Such a system, he said, could be transported on a seasonal basis to areas such as Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, where disposal is a problem but the supply of OTR tires isn't sufficient to justify building a permanent facility.