WASHINGTON (Dec. 14, 2000)—The year 2000 is proving to be a satisfactory one for the scrap tire recovery sector as three major markets—tire-derived fuel, crumb rubber and civil engineering applications—all posted modest growth.
That trend is expected to continue for 2001, according to Michael Blumenthal, executive director of the Scrap Tire Management Council. "We saw more things go up than go down," he said.
The U.S. generated approximately 276 million scrap tires in 2000, 70 percent of which went towards an end use instead of landfills or dumps.
The recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires, undoubtedly the most significant event in the tire industry in 2000, was a non-issue in most parts of the country except for states that had not developed scrap tire markets, according to Mr. Blumenthal.
About 6 million more tires were converted to TDF in 2000 than in 1998 as more cement kilns burned TDF over other fuels, Mr. Blumenthal said. That´s despite the fact that a few major TDF producers—most notably the Oxford plant in California, which burned 6 million tires annually—either shut down or went out of business.
Mr. Blumenthal predicted that paper mills will create additional demand for TDF in the new year, but he said the STMC doesn´t have estimates yet.
Civil engineering gains
A market that continues to advance, particularly in the Southeast, is civil engineering applications. The STMC estimates that 30 million scrap tires were used in 2000 for this purpose, a 50-percent increase from two years earlier.
Most civil engineering projects use tire chips in landfills as alternate daily cover, closure caps and leachate liners. A growing end use is tire chips in septic field drain pads, which help clean and retain water in a septic drainage system.
Mr. Blumenthal said that several states increasingly are using tires for septic field drain pads, including Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. He said a number of states are considering implementing that application because it´s cost effective and uses large amounts of tires.
"I think we´re going to see more of that particular market," he said.
But Mr. Blumenthal admitted that though he´s optimistic about the potential use of tires in civil engineering projects, many states still are pondering the merits of it.
"We´re seeing that as something that can increase nicely, can use large numbers of tires, can be beneficial, can be cost competitive—but it´s a fight," he acknowledged. "Every year you have to come up with more and more markets. In certain states we have bureaucracies that move verrry slowly. That´s going to be a weight on this market."
Crumb at equilibrium
In the crumb rubber market, 18 million scrap tires were grounded up into end-use products, 2 million more than 1998. Mr. Blumenthal said the larger mesh producers—those making 3/8-, 5/8-, 1/2- and 3/4-inch pieces for playgrounds and horse arenas—are doing well considering the market didn´t exist a few years ago. The STMC expects this segment will continue to make modest gains during the new year.
Three large crumb rubber makers that collectively accounted for 40 percent additional capacity all went out of business in 2000. But Mr. Blumenthal noted that those firms had no impact on the market because a core of up to 12 companies continue to supply 80 to 85 percent of the crumb business.
Still, the crumb rubber industry continues to be a tough business, Mr. Blumenthal said, as firms keep trying to beat their competitors´ prices and sometimes compromise product quality. If anything, business failures in 2000 may repel investors from crumb rubber companies in 2001.
The ground rubber industry also is consolidating and maturing, he added. Certain parts of the U.S.—such as the Southeast, New England, California and Illinois—consume all of the scrap tires generated. States that border these areas often have a weak market infrastructure.
However, Mr. Blumenthal would like to see states develop multiple end-use markets for scrap tires rather than having all their "tires in one basket."
"The key now is to diversify markets because if a cement kiln or power plant goes down and stops using tires, and they´re the only market in the area, you´re back to where you started," he said.