It's the kind of news that makes Michael Blumenthal of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) smile, yet also shows him that his work is far from complete.
The RMA has discovered in its research of the scrap tire industry that four out of every five scrap tires are now consumed by expanding markets and that stockpiled tires have been reduced by 73 percent.
The U.S. Scrap Tire Markets report-a biennial report authored by Mr. Blumenthal-shows that 80 percent or nearly 233 million of the 290 million scrap tires generated in 2003 went to an end-use market, compared with 11 percent in 1990. Civil engineering, ground rubber products and tire-derived fuel (TDF) are all end uses for scrap tires, with ground rubber reuse consuming more than 28 million tires in 2003.
``We recognize that we're starting to bump up against the number of glass ceilings out there,'' Mr. Blumenthal, RMA senior technical director, told Tire Business.
TDF is the leading use of scrap tires especially as a supplemental fuel for electricity and pulp and paper mills. TDF use has risen almost 12 percent to nearly 130 million scrap tires since 2001, the report stated.
One of the fastest growing markets for ground rubber is its application in athletic and recreational surfaces. Rubber-modified asphalt is another market that uses ground rubber to produce durable roads. Carpet underlay, flooring material, dock bumpers and railroad-crossing blocks are other applications for ground rubber.
According to the report, tire-shred use in civil engineering applications has grown 41 percent since 2001. Civil engineering projects include road and landfill construction, septic tank leach fields and other construction applications.
Cleanup efforts have reduced stockpiled tires 73 percent since 1990, the report noted. Of the remaining stockpiles, 91 percent are concentrated in 11 states: Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington.
However, Mr. Blumenthal cautioned that much work needs to be done because many of the markets have ``institutional obstacles, things that we, the industry, can't change.'' For example, Mr. Blumenthal said although the RMA no longer has to disseminate information on civil engineering applications, the association does need to urge some state agencies to change their definitions of scrap tires.
``Let's say we want to use a couple million tires in a road embankment job. Well, you can't bring 2 million tires out in one day,'' he explained. ``You can't have trucks continuously dump the tires into the fill. You have to have some on-site. Well, if they're classified as a solid waste and that location would have to get a solid waste storage permit, they're not (going to). It's not that they have any problems using the tires from an engineering perspective or from a cost perspective. They have a problem using the tires from a definitional perspective.''
He noted that many regulatory agencies ``don't share the urgency to change definitions'' and that inaction hurts the marketplace. In the rubber-modified asphalt market, he said the industry still needs to educate many state transportation departments and contractors on standards and procedures for use.
Other challenges facing the scrap tire industry in its efforts to raise the recycling rate above 90 percent is to keep promoting markets so that there always will be end uses for tires, according to Mr. Blumenthal.
Recent trends by states to allow new-tire fees to sunset or be diverted to general funds also are political realities with which the RMA and scrap tire industry must contend. Mr. Blumenthal plans to go to Missouri to educate legislators on the importance of reinstating a new-tire fee the legislature allowed to lapse this year.
In late 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency created the Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC) with a mission to conserve national resources. The RCC set a goal of 85 percent for scrap tire reuse and a reduction rate of 55 percent for 300 million stockpiled tires by 2008. Mr. Blumenthal said he is ``highly confident'' of the first goal being achieved but ``not so confident'' about the latter goal because several states need to initiate an abatement program, and the RMA can only do so much.
``One of the things we have to do is go to these states, talk with them, explain to them the importance of what we're trying to do,'' Mr. Blumenthal said of tire abatement programs. ``The RCC needs to do the same thing. This is a partnership because if I go to New Jersey or Pennsylvania or any of these states...I serve a special interest. But if the EPA and other state agencies come along and say the only way you're going to solve the scrap tire problem is by focusing on abatement, well it's the same message but it's a whole different perspective'' because it's coming from the federal government, he said.
Information for the RMA's seventh biennial report was obtained through a questionnaire sent to all state scrap tire regulators as well as through extensive phone surveys. It is available in PDF format on the RMA's Web site, www.rma.org.