RICHMOND, Va.—Quantifying the problem of recycling OTR tires is a Catch-22.
The tire industry doesn't provide statistics on scrap OTR tires as it does for other types of scrap tires, making it hard to estimate the number of scrap OTR tires within a state's borders or target them for cleanup, according to Allan Lassiter, manager of the Virginia Waste Tire Program within the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
No states except one, Minnesota, place regulations or fees on OTR tires as they do on passenger and truck tires, making it difficult for the industry to get an accurate count of how many scrap OTR tires there are in each state, according to Michael Blumenthal, vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA).
However, Messrs. Lassiter and Blumenthal agree that scrap OTR tires—mining, farming, logging, industrial—present thorny problems for would-be recyclers.
The astronomical cost of transporting OTR tires to processing sites, combined with the extreme durability of the tires themselves, makes OTR tire recycling problematic at best. Mr. Lassiter estimated that it costs $100 to $200 to process an OTR tire for scrap, compared with less than $1 for a passenger tire.
“These tires are built to be virtually indestructible, and they pretty much are,” Mr. Blumenthal told Tire Business.
The state view
OTR tires encompass an enormous range of tire sizes and applications, Mr. Lassiter noted. Typically, however, the Virginia DEQ defines OTR tires as those that haven't been certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation to travel on roads at 70 mph, although, he added, “some OTR tires do travel on roads at 70 mph.”
OTR tires present logistical problems in recycling that other tires don't, Mr. Lassiter said. “An OTR tire is so big that it has to be chopped up into small pieces just to fit into a shredder.”
Sometimes scrap tire processors are leery even of the smaller pieces, according to Mr. Lassiter. One public processing site in Virginia cut a shipment of OTR tires into eight pieces each and then landfilled them rather than trying to process them. “They didn't want to mess up their million-dollar shredding machine,” he said.
One of the biggest problems with OTR tires is that the people who buy them—mostly farmers, loggers and mining companies—tend to let the scrap tires stay on their own property.
“Now the problem is scattered all over Virginia,” Mr. Lassiter said. “The tires just sit there.”
The Virginia DEQ has sponsored a couple of programs to promote the recycling of OTR tires, according to Mr. Lassiter. The larger of these was a two-year program in the early 2000s, in which the department paid a landfill in Frederick County—in Northern Virginia, near Winchester—to cut up and shred any OTR tires it received. Unfortunately, the landfill received fewer than 100 tires, because generators didn't want to pay the cost of transporting them there.
“If we do a program like that again, we'll have to do something to get more tires, which probably means subsidizing the heck out of it, which we tend not to want to do,” Mr. Lassiter said. “There are only 10 tire recyclers in all of Virginia, so hauling is expensive.”
The lack of figures—from the RMA or anywhere else—on the annual generation of OTR tires is a major handicap in determining scrap tire abatement and utilization rates, according to Mr. Lassiter.
The RMA issues a market report every two years which contains figures on the recycling rate of every kind of tires except OTR, he said.
“The standard calculation is that every state generates one scrap tire per person per year,” Mr. Lassiter said. “There's a huge amount of rubber out there that's not being recycled. That inflates the utilization numbers we actually use by a big amount, and we don't know what the real numbers are, because only the industry can tell us how many of these tires are being produced.
“I ask the RMA every year why they don't provide us with OTR numbers,” he said. “The RMA helps us a lot, and they really do a great job of helping us on every other kind of tire. But when I ask about OTR tires, the general response is, 'You guys aren't recycling those.'”
“My response is that we are recycling some of them,” Mr. Lassiter said. “Emanuel Tire Co. has three sites in Virginia that accept OTR tires, and they also accept them in Baltimore. Some people bring their tires to Emanuel Tire because they want to do the right thing.
“These numbers are showing up in the Virginia recycling rate, but not in the more general rate,” he said. “The bottom line is, we don't know how many OTR tires are out there. I've been working on the scrap tire problem for 20 years, and this is the only nut we haven't cracked.”
The industry view
The reason the RMA doesn't track scrap OTR tires, Mr. Blumenthal said, is because the states don't.
“OTRs are not really part of state scrap tire programs,” he said. They are exempt from state scrap tire regulations, and only Minnesota and Arizona charge scrap tire fees on new OTR tire sales, he said. “Minnesota is the only state that really follows up on OTR tires.”
It is also the only state that has a scrap tire recycling firm with a specialty in OTR tires, he said—Monitor Tire Disposal Inc., in St. Martin, Minn., 90 miles north of the Twin Cities.
According to Monitor Tire's website, the firm began operations in 1988 and pioneered the shredding and processing of giant OTR tires more than a decade ago. The company handles tires more than 13 feet high and weighing more than 13,000 pounds, reducing them to chips smaller than one-half inch.
The RMA estimates that scrap OTR tires represent about 1 percent of scrap tires by number and 15 percent by weight, according to Mr. Blumenthal. “But OTRs, like retreads, are not part of our data,” he said.
Mr. Blumenthal agreed with Mr. Lassiter about the extreme difficulties and disincentives in bringing OTR tires to processors.
“The cost of bringing these tires to processors is very expensive, and companies that use them are disinclined to pay the freight,” he said, noting that the cost of hauling an OTR tire can reach $500 to $1,000, and not many processors are willing or able to deal with such a tire.
Because of the continuing worldwide shortage in OTR tire supply, reuse rather than recycling has been the rule, Mr. Blumenthal said. “If you have an OTR tire that is anywhere near reusable, someone will try to reuse it.”