TORONTO-A new $6.3 million tire recycling plant that opened in Toronto Jan. 21 marks a return of sorts for 66-year-old National Rubber Co. Inc. The Toronto-based maker of mats and molded products from recycled rubber, processed used tires when it started out in 1927, but later turned to rubber waste from tire plants for its principle raw material. Now the company is returning to scrap tires as a source of feedstock.
The move was spurred by improved efficiencies at tire manufacturing plants. A couple of years ago National Rubber began noticing its sources of tire plant waste shrinking. So the company, which uses about 24,000 tons of rubber per year, began investigating the viability of using scrap tire rubber in its manufacturing operations.
Unlike many processors, National Rubber had the advantage of working backwards into scrap tire recycling: starting with successful end products and working scrap tire rubber into the production process, according to President T.W. ``Ted'' Pattenden.
In addition to original equipment products for the automotive industry, National Rubber manufactures athletic surfaces, playground mats, anti-skid mats and roof walkway mats for industrial buildings.
Since these products require crumb rubber with certain specifications, the company opted to develop its own tire processing plant in downtown Toronto.
Using an ambient grinding process, the plant processes tires into crumb rubber, separating out the fiber and wire. The processed rubber and fiber is used by National Rubber's two manufacturing plants, also in Toronto. The steel wire is sold as scrap.
``Our aim is to get back as much of the original properties in the tire as we can,'' said Mr. Pattenden. Unlike burning tires for fuel, processing tires into another product can generate a higher return, he added.
The tire processing unit will start shredding about 1 million to 1.5 million tires a year, gradually adding machinery to build up to full capacity of 4 million to 5 million tires a year, which is about the same number disposed of annually in metropolitan Toronto.
National Rubber posts annual sales of about $50 million Canadian ($37 million U.S.); 70 percent of its output goes to the auto industry. ``There's a huge growth of interest in the automotive industry for recycled products of all kinds,'' Mr. Pattenden said.
But more important than being environmentally correct was the issue of whether using scrap tire materials in its products made good business sense, according to Mr. Pattenden. ``It's an economic rule: You can't take a product that costs 10 cents a pound and recycle it into a rock,'' he said. ``It won't pay.''
But National Rubber said its products-ranging from rubber mats and wheel chocks to sound and vibration insulators, fender guards and industrial tires-have real economic value.
After developing the means to incorporate scrap tire by-products into its existing products, Mr. Pattenden noted that one of the successes of its tire processing project was managing to get three levels of government to cooperate in its development.
The Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy provided National Rubber with matching grants of $3.5 million for the plant's equipment and $4.4 million for research and development; the City of Toronto helped bring the project to fruition and leased the building for the tire processing unit; and the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto entered into a contract to supply National Rubber with all waste tires the municipality collects.
Realizing that establishing a tire processing plant on the city's waterfront was a delicate issue with neighbors, the company said it designed its facility to ``avoid any environmental impact on nearby recreational and residential areas.'' Tires are stored indoors and machinery noise is buffered by specially designed interior walls.
National Rubber plans to make its technology available internationally and may build additional tire processing plants for itself, or for others on a turn-key basis.