COOLIDGE, Ariz.-The announcement by the Scrap Tire Management Council that the nation is ahead of schedule when it comes to scrap tire disposal/recycling may be greeted with some skepticism in Arizona. Officials there are running short on patience as massive piles of shredded tires have been accumulated outside Phoenix that have sat and sat awaiting promised recycling that has yet to begin.
But the firm that plans to use the shreds in what it claims will be an innovative pyrolysis operation is hoping perseverance will pay off, for all concerned.
When it was awarded a contract in September 1993 to clean up the waste tires-and tire-saturated landfills-in 13 of the state's 15 counties, Colinas Tire Recovery Inc., a longtime retreading and recycling company, had grandiose plans to turn tire piles into profits.
It has, company officials believe, done yeoman's work cleaning up the scrap tires, and has been paid about $747,000 by county officials to do so. But the recycling part of the operation, up until recently, was stalled after financing Colinas was counting on fell through.
State and county officials threatened to pull the plug on the family-run business, but feared the tires would end up back in landfills-or worse. Dumping tires in landfills is banned in Arizona.
While Colinas' legal problems haven't evaporated-the firm faces heavy fines for letting a temporary tire storage permit lapse-the company expects its pyrolysis plant will be operational in April.
That has Dan Smolnik, waste tire program coordinator for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, happy, but perhaps a little bit cautious.
``Yes, (Colinas) is behind schedule. Yes, until they got funding and (recently) started plant construction, we considered the program to be in some jeopardy,'' he said. ``But apparently it will smooth itself out, and they'll get on with the process.''
In October 1994, Colinas entered a joint operating venture with a Pacific Palisades, Calif.-based company called REPCO, which is financing construction of a $3.5 million-$4 million pyrolysis plant in Coolidge, Ariz., which the two companies will operate as United Waste Recovery Inc.
According to Jim Seal, REPCO's business-development representative, the firm manufactures and sells products made from recycled materials.
Among those products are ``light logs,'' described by Mr. Seal as a building material resembling a concrete block that consists of polystyrene, cellulose products, a non-epoxy binder, and tire-derived carbon black, or char-one of the byproducts of tire pyrolysis.
The char produced by REPCO also is used to make roofing tiles, non-load-bearing wall sections, partitions, spray sealants, coating products and various types of filters, and acts as a binding agent in asphalt rubber and similar materials, Mr. Seal said.
Although the process of pyrolysis-heating tires in an oxygenless enviroment to break them down into oil, gas, steel and char-has been around for years in various forms, critics say there are limited markets for its byproducts, and it has yet to prove profitable.
But Mr. Seal takes exception to that analysis.
Once it's up and running, the plant in Coolidge will have no problem using or selling the char, crude oil and steel byproducts of its scrap tires, he believes.
The company has plans to erect a plant alongside the pyrolysis facility to produce light logs and other products, and Mr. Seal said the site eventually will be home to a $20 million recycling complex that also will accept paper and other waste.
Ross Thompson is waste tire administrator for Maricopa County, which coordinates efforts among Colinas and the 13 counties to clean up some 3.5 million scrap tires annually. He said the company ``demonstrated that pyrolysis is a viable disposal method,'' and once the plant begins operation, he's confident it can be successful.
However, it's been a long, hard road fraught with financial pitfalls and legislative landmines, admits Barney Hills, general manager of Colinas, which is owned by his father, Clay. The whole project has been ``such a political football,'' he lamented, complicated even more when Colinas' original financial backer withdrew.
And Colinas faces the additional problem of having to remove, by July 7, two piles of 100,000 shredded scrap tires on the plant site, or pay a $500-per-tire fine.
But Mr. Hills is confident once the project is operational, happy days may be around the corner.
He said his father has been in the tire business for some 49 years, and during the 1970s retreaded tires for all Kmart Corp. stores in the Western U.S., before he gradually got out of retreading. And for a number of years, Barney Hills had a contract to dispose all the scrap tires from the Southern California stores of Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based Discount Tire Co. Inc.
Today, the Hills family operates The Tire Factory, a retail tire and automotive service outlet in Coolidge that sells new and used tires, and also services truck tires.
With the aid of two large shredders in the field, Colinas currently processes about 4,000 tires an hour, or approximately 25,000 tires daily, Mr. Hills said. He would not disclose the company's financial projections for the pyrolysis operation.
But REPCO's Mr. Seal believes niche markets abound for the tire-derived carbon black the plant will produce, and he said United Waste Recovery already has had numerous requests for its products-even though the plant is just under construction.
All that notwithstanding, Mr. Seal admitted that, for at least several years, income from tipping/tire disposal fees will be ``critical'' to the company's financial survival, until it has locked up markets for its products.