AKRON-North America moves closer to solving its scrap tire disposal problem with each passing year-and progress is occurring faster than many in the industry originally had anticipated. Only six years ago, when TIRE BUSINESS published its first annual scrap tire report, few in the industry foresaw the problem being resolved before the year 2000.
That was in 1989 when only five states had laws regulating the collection and disposal of scrap tires. Since then, every state except two-Delaware and Alaska-has enacted such legislation addressing its tire disposal problems.
And now, with the turn of the century still five years off, newly cultivated markets for scrap tires already are gobbling up more than one in every two tires taken off U.S. vehicles.
Meanwhile, market demand for scrap tires is predicted to soar as high as 86.4 percent of the tires generated next year and the day is not far off when such markets will be consuming 100 percent of the industry's take-off tires. Then real progress will be made toward the final solution: total elimination of above-ground stockpiles.
That's the conclusion to be drawn from the third annual ``Scrap Tire Use/Disposal Study,'' conducted by the Scrap Tire Management Council (STMC).
The soon-to-be-released study disclosed that 55.4 percent of the more than 250 million scrap tires generated by American motorists during 1994 made their way into what STMC called ``sound-end-use'' markets, rather than ending up in municipal landfills or illegally dumped in areas where they would become a blot on the landscape and possibly endanger public health and safety.
The STMC's figures show that demand for scrap tires has increased a whopping 500 percent since 1990, when scarcely more than one in 10 tires was recycled.
Moreover, the STMC's figures on tire use do not include U.S. retread production of 30 million units annually, the addition of which brings the total number of reused/recycled tires to nearly 60 percent of those removed from U.S. vehicles in 1994.
``Show me any other materials outside of aluminum cans that are recycled at that rate,'' challenged Michael Blumenthal, executive director of the STMC.
``It shows that in two years, tires not only have been accepted (by the market), but in certain areas are in great demand.
``And while past performance is no indication of the future, we don't see any major pitfalls out there,'' he said.
Growth in the demand for scrap tires will continue, Mr. Blumenthal predicted. ``Maybe not at such a rapid pace, but it will continue.''
To date, tire-derived fuel (TDF) is by far the most important of the seven potential scrap tire markets surveyed-which also included civil engineering projects, ground rubber applications, stamped rubber products, agriculture, export and pyrolysis.
The burning of TDF chips by users such as cement kilns, paper mills and electrical generating facilities, should account for about 136 million scrap tires this year and possibly as many as 182 million in 1996, the STMC predicted.
In fact, demand for TDF has begun to outstrip the supply of scrap tires in areas such as New England and Illinois. There it's now economically practical to haul in tires from outlying states.
Independent dealers, who collect the vast majority of tires returned by customers, stand to benefit from the lowering of tipping fees charged by scrap tire processors in these areas of high demand, Mr. Blumenthal pointed out.
Tipping fees charged by scrap tire processors in Illinois, which were running 75-80 cents per tire in 1994, now are down to about 45 cents. While those in New England-once $1 per tire-have dropped to about 30 cents, he said.
And this happy state of affairs could turn out to be merely the beginning, says Andy Eastman, who heads Goodyear's 6-year-old scrap tire task force and prefers to talk about ``managing the waste stream'' rather than ``solving the scrap tire problem.''
Mr. Eastman, who contends that scrap tires should be processed immediately after being taken off rather than risk potential contamination and unnecessary handling, predicts that the tires-to-energy market is ``on the verge of really blossoming.''
If that occurs, he predicted, the energy market alone could consume all the industry's take-offs-perhaps as early as 1997-98.
Mr. Eastman said his Goodyear team alone is aware of 29 cement kilns now burning TDF or whole tires on a routine basis. Meanwhile, 11 more have conducted test burns and 27 others are thought to be considering tire use. Within two years, there will be a total of 80 cement kilns burning tires, he estimated.
Meanwhile, according to Mr. Eastman, there are 22 electrical generating plants burning TDF and another 11 that have conducted test burns. An additional five such plants are also thought to be evaluating tire use, he added.
``I might point out that these are (only) the ones we are familiar with,'' Mr. Eastman said. Many potential users may be keeping their plans hush-hush for competitive reasons.
Still another potential market for TDF-steel foundries-remains largely untapped. These huge facilities can use a greater percentage of the tire-including its steel reinforcing plies and bead wires-than paper mills. In fact, the steel in the tire serves to augment the pig iron used in the foundry process, Mr. Eastman pointed out.
Civil engineering projects in which tire chips are substituted for stone aggregate in highway or other types of construction, represent another growth market that has doubled over the last two years, according to the STMC study.
However, this particular end-use accounted for only 9 million tires in 1994-still small potatoes when compared with the tires-to-energy market.
One potential market that has come nowhere near living up to earlier expectations is that of ground rubber for use in rubber-modified asphalt. The main reason, the STMC said, was prior forecasts anticipated full implementation last year of the asphalt rubber mandate in Section 1038(d) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA).
But ISTEA, which would require states to use increasing percentages of rubberized asphalt in federally funded highway projects, has not been instituted.
STMC officials said they have scaled back their latest forecast regarding the projected use of rubber-modified asphalt in anticipation of the likelihood that full implementation of ISTEA simply will not occur.
The measure, criticized as ``too expensive'' by asphalt producers and some state highway officials, was met last year with Congressional legislation forbidding the U.S. Department of Transportation from using federal highway funds to promote or enforce section 1038(d).