The efforts to lick the nation's scrap tire disposal problem have lost momentum—and that's a shame. Anyone who thinks the problem is under control didn't see our Aug. 30 front-page photo. There, in full color, was a dramatic shot of a 20 million-tire pile ablaze in northwestern Ohio.
That fire, and a similar one in Tracy, Calif., that's still burning after a year, underscore the continuing need to reduce the numbers of tires scrapped annually and to eliminate existing tire piles.
That means, among other things, disposing of tires properly, encouraging recycling and the development of new uses for recycled rubber, keeping vehicles aligned and tires inflated to recommended pressures to prolong their life.
Scrap tire recycling is not the hot news topic it was a few years ago, when the industry was in its infancy.
At June's World ITRA Expo in Nashville, Tenn., for example, the number of scrap tire attendees and exhibitors was noticeably fewer than earlier years.
Ironically, the nation's prosperity is having a negative effect on scrap tire abatement.
The number of scrap tires used as tire-derived fuel fell 17 percent in 1998 as a handful of cement kilns, for economic reasons, stopped burning them.
Utility deregulation also has impacted use of TDF as several older plants were shut down and others have stopped using alternative fuels.
As a result, of the 273 million tires discarded in 1998, only 65 percent were recycled—down from 76 percent two years earlier, according to the Scrap Tire Management Council.
The problem could get even worse, if efforts to drop the excise tax on new truck tires succeed.
Such a move would make retreads less price competitive, encouraging the use of new tires and causing a greater number of tires to be scrapped prematurely.
The industry has won some important battles in fighting the scrap tire war during the past decade, and companies and governments at all levels continue to work to eliminate the problem.
But it's evident that more must be done if the problem is to be truly eliminated.
Goodyear's recently announced breakthrough enabling the possible re-use of increased amounts of recycled rubber in the tire-making process and Continental General Tire's similar project with the state of North Carolina are good examples of the type of effort that must occur more often.
After one year, Conti General has recycled 500,000 scrap tires, with the goal of eventually building tires with 25 percent recycled rubber content.
Scrap tires remain a huge problem that's getting worse not better. Solving it will take the combined efforts of everyone in the tire industry.
It's time everyone made scrap tires their problem.