LOUISVILLE, Ky.-The Governmental Procurement Guidelines, published in the Federal Register April 20 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, include five products containing recycled rubber: playground surfaces, running tracks, floor tiles, patio blocks and traffic cones. That document, filed as part of President Clinton's mandate that federal agencies use more recycled products, will increase the demand for processed scrap tires, according to Dana Arnold, director of the EPA's Office of Solid Waste.
Ms. Arnold told attendees at April's ARA World Tire Conference & Exposition the U.S. will soon begin to see a dramatic increase in the markets for scrap tires.
On the other hand, a number of business leaders, market analysts, government officials and recycling engineers, who spoke at other seminars during the Louisville conference, said they believe tire recycling has the potential for tremendous environmental and economic gains. But they warned that the road will not be easily traveled.
Because tires are perceived as an environmental and health hazard, they said, recycling entrepreneurs have their work cut out for them in setting up their operations and developing free markets.
``Tires are 1 percent of all municipal solid waste and a symbol of the other 99,'' said Dick Cirre, director of the Kentucky Recycling Brokerage Authority, quoting a newspaper article he'd read.
Mr. Cirre's 2-year-old state agency, which has helped open markets for recycled products since the summer of 1993, can sell aluminum for as much as $800 a ton. However, it has had little success with tires, he said. In fact, the KRBA calculates that a ton of scrap tires has a negative value of between $30 and $60, he added.
The EPA's Ms. Arnold said she believes the value of scrap tires will change for the better as the Clinton administration implements a number of programs designed to encourage both government officials and the general public to use recycled products.
``Everyone thinks about recycled paper, some of them may think about retread tires, but we want to move them in the direction of thinking in all aspects of their operations,'' she said.
This year, the administration has authorized the creation of four Recycling Reuse Business Assistance Centers, designed to provide business, financial and marketing assistance to recyclers, and 10 Recycling Economic Development Advocates, who will attempt to help businesses that use recycled materials survive and grow.
Ms. Arnold said the two programs ``will open a lot of doors'' for recycled products.
But other experts speaking during the Louisville conference said they believe it is dangerous for companies to rely on ``artificially created'' markets.
``We do not have any preconceived notion that we're going to get any easy road simply because we're using recycled materials,'' said Ron Grulich of the Seattle, Wash.-based Clean Washington Center, which is working to educate businesses on the benefits of using recycled products. ``One of the things that really disturbs me about the tire people I normally deal with is they seem to always count on the tip fee. We don't see the tip fee as being there forever.''
Tipping fees, like government-induced markets, may be giving companies a false sense of security with their products, Mr. Grulich said, adding that he believes the long-term success of a recycler depends on market innovations that can compete with virgin materials.