WASHINGTON—They aren't declaring victory, but officials of the Scrap Tire Management Council claim steady advances in the war against used tire stockpiles.
A decade ago, the number of stockpiled used tires was placed at 3 billion. Today, it's 300 million, according to John Serumgard, Rubber Manufacturers Association and STMC executive vice president, and STMC Executive Director Michael Blumenthal. They give three reasons for that improvement: state efforts at tire stockpile abatement; the growth of markets for scrap tires, particularly in civil engineering; and large tire fires.
Make that four reasons—Messrs. Serumgard and Blumenthal said the 3 billion number, a mathematical extrapolation, wasn't accurate in the first place.
Today the STMC uses reports from states, with a few educated guesses in some cases, to come up with a stockpile number that is accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The method of counting tires is much improved, Mr. Serumgard said.
Five or six experts work around the country developing stockpile estimates by taking into account factors such as the weight of the tires, the age of the pile and the topography of the land on which they lie.
"Before, most of the counts were overestimated or underestimated. Mostly overestimated," Mr. Blumenthal said.
The states' abatement programs have done much to reduce the stockpiles. Most have passed legislation requiring new-tire fees, with the money used to properly dispose of used tires. There are a few exceptions, however.
For example, Mr. Blumenthal said most Southern states have done well, but Alabama is still behind the curve. New York and Massachusetts also have large stockpiles.
Mr. Blumenthal said after years of getting nowhere in New York, the STMC reached out to the "other side"—environmental groups, in particular—to help get legislation to handle the problem. He expects success in that area soon.
New York has had several major tire fires, which stirs interest in doing something about the problem, as well as reducing the numbers of used tires. "We aren't advocating tire fires, but it has had an effect," he said.
Occasionally a fire is started by lightning or accident, but "98 percent of the time it's arson," Mr. Serumgard said.
He said a problem they constantly face is turnover in state agency officials. Often after spending time helping educate a state official about scrap tire abatement, they discover the official has moved up and been replaced "by an eager, fresh-faced kid out of college, and we have to start all over again," Mr. Serumgard said.
The arm of the RMA also has a program to teach firefighters how to deal with a scrap tire fire. Mr. Blumenthal said stockpiles often are in rural areas where the fire departments are small and ill-equipped to handle such a blaze.
The hot method of tire disposal now is in civil engineering uses, such as bridge construction. Tire chips compete favorably with stone for such applications in cost, and weigh less and are easier to handle, Mr. Blumenthal said.
Landfills also use scrap tires as leachate liners, closure caps or alternate daily cover. In a few areas, like Wyoming or Nevada, landfilling seems to be the best final solution for used tires, Mr. Blumenthal said.
Stockpiled tires aren't very acceptable to crumb rubber processors, or for tire-derived fuel, he said, sectors that take up much of the 276 million tires scrapped in 2000. About 18 million tires were ground up for end-use markets last year, and about 120 million converted to tire-derived fuel, primarily in cement kilns.
Messrs. Serumgard and Blumenthal said the potential for "backsliding" by states keeps them vigilant. As tire stockpiles disappear, and the urgency for handling scrap tires becomes less visible, state officials might try to spend money earmarked for handling used tires for something else.
That could make stockpiles grow again.