WASHINGTON—By any measure, the individual states have made a great success of scrap tire abatement and recycling programs in the past 20 years, according to major experts in the scrap tire field.
But a few states still have major tire piles to clean up, and the down economy makes prospects for continued funding of state scrap tire programs questionable, they said.
Statistics from the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA)—the one national organization, public or private, that keeps detailed statistics on scrap tires—tell an encouraging story.
In 1990—the year the RMA started tracking scrap tires—there were an estimated 1 billion scrap tires in stockpiles across the U.S., and 24.5 million scrap tires reached productive end-markets compared with 223 million scrap tires generated that year.
By 2005—the latest available figures—there were 188 million tires in stockpiles, and 259.2 million scrap tires reached end-markets compared with 299 million generated.
The states always have been in charge of establishing and operating their own scrap tire programs—most of them with the aid and advice of the RMA. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does some oversight of state scrap tire programs, mostly at the regional level, but keeps no formal numbers on compliance or scrap tire abatement. “The states have no reporting requirement on scrap tires,” said an EPA official.
It's also difficult to compare the success rates of different states in cleaning up and recycling scrap tires, according to Mary Sikora, principal of the Leesburg, Va.-based Recycling Research Institute and publisher of Scrap Tire News.
“Every state is so different, and the goals are so different, that it's difficult to rate one against another,” Ms. Sikora said. “But overall, the states have been successful in meeting their goals. Over the years many of the states have accomplished their major tire pile cleanups.”
Today more than 40 states have fewer than 100,000 tires stockpiled within their borders, according to Michael Blumenthal, RMA vice president-resource recovery.
“That's really a major success, considering that 20 years ago every state had stockpiles,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “There are still some states that have significant problems, but if you look at this year alone, we've seen some very encouraging developments.”
One of the biggest recent success stories is New York state, which has only a few million stockpiled scrap tires left out of more than 30 million five years ago, Mr. Blumenthal said. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has vowed to clean up the remaining 7.5 million stockpiled tires in the state by year-end.
Alabama is another prime example of successful scrap tire abatement, Mr. Blumenthal said. “The state didn't have a program for years, and now it's going gangbusters,” he said. “It's cleaned up 75 percent of its piles in just a few years.”
Also, Michigan has made progress in scrap tire cleanups through a multi-stage process, and Pennsylvania has only 1 million to 2 million stockpiled tires left, all scheduled for abatement, he said.
On the other hand, Massachusetts has no fee on new tires to pay for scrap tire abatement, according to Mr. Blumenthal. New Jersey has a fee, but no real abatement program, he said.
Of all the states, Colorado has the biggest remaining problem with scrap tire stockpiles, Mr. Blumenthal said. “Colorado still has three of what it calls 'monofills,'” he said. “There are 60 million tires in one, 20 million in another and 2 (million) or 3 million at a third site. But if you talk to people in Colorado, they don't consider these sites as stockpiles, and two are still actively accepting tires.”
The county commissioners of El Paso County, Colo., approved a memorandum of understanding Jan. 14 with Colorado Energy Recyclers L.L.C. to clean up the 30-million-tire Midway Landfill south of Colorado Springs and shred the tires for GCC Cement Co. in Pueblo to use as fuel.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is encouraging the project, various media reported.
Recently state scrap tire programs across the U.S. have faced another problem, Ms. Sikora and Mr. Blumenthal noted: raids on scrap tire funds and operations by legislatures desperate for extra cash,
“They have really been affected by the economy,” Ms. Sikora said. “Many state programs have seen their funding reallocated or cut or suspended.”
Not only have sagging new tire sales cut down on the fees entering state scrap tire funds, but more and more states are reallocating scrap tire funds for the general fund or for other purposes as tax revenues and other sources of income dry up, she said.
California is the only state with a large scrap tire fund still intact, according to Mr. Blumenthal. Other states show plainly what happens when scrap tire funds are dissipated, he said.
“Georgia once had one of the premier scrap tire programs in the country,” he said. “But then the legislature swept the scrap tire fund.” The staff for the state program went from three full-time professionals in Atlanta plus engineers in the field to one full-time and one part-time staff member who couldn't leave headquarters, he said.
In addition, many users of scrap tires have curtailed or ended their use because of the bad economy, according to Mr. Blumenthal. For example, many cement kilns have shut down or closed for maintenance while waiting for demand to pick up.
“It's not a tire issue, but an economic one,” he said.
Mr. Blumenthal called the current situation “a perfect storm” for scrap tire programs, and backsliding is likely to result.
“If you have a state where scrap tire abatement is no longer taking place, by the time they get the programs back up and running, you're looking at piles of old tires again,” he said.