The U.S. has come a long way in regulating the storage, collection and disposal of scrap tires. However, much remains to be done before the nation's scrap tire problem can be regarded as a thing of the past. Still to be addressed, for example, is the obvious need for developing profitable and dependable markets for recycled tires.
On the positive side, an increasing percentage of the scrap tires generated each year are being recycled rather than going to landfills or abandoned to become a blot on the landscape.
In fact, some experts predict that by the decade's end, the U.S. will recycle more tires annually than it scraps-thereby signaling the first real attack on the nation's 2-billion to 4-billion-tire scrap pile.
Yet a closer look reveals the questionable-if not precarious-financial underpinnings of the tire recycling industry as it exists today.
The truth is that few tire recycling operations could exist without levying so-called tipping or disposal fees before accepting scrap tires for processing.
Take, for example, the relatively uncomplicated process of shredding tires into tire-derived fuel, which is probably less capital intensive than most forms of recycling and which accounts for the largest percentage of tires currently being recycled.
Seldom is producing and selling TDF sufficiently profitable in its own right to keep a tire recycling company financially viable without benefit of disposal fees.
As one of the nation's largest scrap tire processing companies, Illinois-based National Tire Services Inc., discovered-it costs more to make and transport TDF than the company is able to charge for it.
Forty-six states and the federal government offer incentives such as loans, grants, tax credits, preferential procurement or reimbursements to end users to increase the market for recycled tires. Yet more needs to be done.
Until tire recycling is commercially viable, it remains a speculative venture facing an uncertain future too dependent on governmental whims. To solve the scrap tire problem, tire recycling must be more than that.