HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—Markets for recycled tires are more diverse and sophisticated than ever before, with rubber-modified asphalt an especially promising technology for the future, according to Dick Gust, director of government affairs and president of national account sales for Liberty Tire Recycling L.L.C.
But effective management of end-of-life tires (ELTs)—whether by government or industry—still plays a major role in ensuring that scrap tires get to useful end-markets, said Glenn R. Maidment, president of the Rubber Association of Canada, at the Clemson University Tire Industry Conference.
The North American tire recycling market in 2013 was strong, but still not quite where the tire industry would like it to be, according to Mr. Gust.
More than 302 million new tires of all sorts were shipped in the U.S. in 2013, he said. Meanwhile, industry experts indicate a tire recycling rate last year of between 85 and 90 percent of all scrap tires generated. “The industry is trying to improve that percentage,” he said. “Off-the-road tires represent the new frontier in tire recycling.”
Tire-derived fuel (TDF) and civil engineering applications have long been prominent in tire recycling, Mr. Gust said, but new technologies in ground rubber—such as rubber mulch, playgrounds, athletic fields and rubberized asphalt—are threatening to surpass the more traditional markets.
“Today's technologies clean, process and convert tire chips into a unique rubber mulch that is non-allergenic and harmless to plants, pets and children.”
Synthetic turf for athletic fields has a sustainable layer of crumb rubber that ensures its stability and cushioning capabilities, he said, but the most promising crumb rubber technology is rubber-modified asphalt. “Innovators of the industry are converting scrap tires into rubberized asphalt highways,” he said. “These highways ride quieter, last longer and use significantly less paving materials than traditional asphalt.”
Rubberized asphalt uses a lot of scrap tires, and uses them well, Mr. Gust said. One mile of a four-lane highway paved with rubberized asphalt will use up to 80 tons of crumb rubber, equivalent to approximately 8,000 scrap tires.
Asphalt modified with scrap tire rubber costs about $30 less per ton than conventional asphalt and more than $100 less than asphalt modified with virgin polymers. It can be applied much less thickly than conventional asphalt and requires less maintenance over time, he said.
Rubberized asphalt also offers significant noise-reduction properties, provides faster water runoff for highways than conventional highways, he said, and reduces both splash-and-spray and hydroplaning. Mr. Gust showed a video of a car on a highway from a driver's-eye view during a rainstorm.
The splash-and-spray from the rain decreased notably once the vehicle reached a stretch of road paved with rubberized asphalt. Up to now, rubberized asphalt has been used mainly in warm-weather states such as Arizona, California, Texas and Florida, Mr. Gust said, but recent experiences in Alaska, Sweden and some Canadian provinces have shown that rubberized asphalt outperforms conventional asphalt over a wide temperature range.
Meanwhile, with a burgeoning middle class in China, India, Brazil and other developing countries, the need for tires will grow—and, with that, a need for worldwide solutions for scrap tire proliferation, according to Mr. Maidment.
The World Business Council on Sustainable Development estimates that the world generates 1 billion end-of-life tires annually, with another 4 billion stockpiled across the planet, he said.
“In this age of our collective appreciation for the need to build and promote sustainable solutions, can we, at minimum, identify best practices to help design an ELT framework to ensure that, as these new tires come into the market in the developing world, the ELT framework is put into place so that the subsequent scrap tires are responsibly managed?” he asked. “If we can pick out what provisions work and what don't, we can at least shine a light on best practices in the hope that, as new programs come on stream in the developing world, they wouldn't make the same mistakes made elsewhere.”
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)—the idea that the environmental costs of handling products throughout their life-cycles should be integrated into the products' market price—is widespread in both Europe and Canada, according to Mr. Maidment.
There are 14 ELT companies managing tires on the EPR model in 18 European countries, he said. For the most part, these corporations were created by tire manufacturers to fulfill their obligations under the specific regulations in their countries.
In Canada, virtually every province has an ELT management corporation, though only three—British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario—have true EPR management systems, Mr. Maidment said. The diversion rate achieved by these corporations is very high, averaging above 85 percent. “And, at least in Europe, the cost to recycle has generally continued to decline over time,” Mr. Maidment said.
The boards of ELT corporations tend to be comprised of tire industry executives, whose goal is always to create greater efficiency and lower costs. However, a major problem with some ELT corporations is a high level of fraud and a low level of enforcement, according to Mr. Maidment.
Some tire and vehicle importers try to put scrap tires in the system without paying eco fees, and the corporations have no powers to enforce payment, he said.
“Enforcement is usually left to government agencies which are short-staffed and/or short of budget. “Invariably, any monies recovered from enforcement action goes to government general revenue, not to the enforcement agency, so there is little incentive to put much effort into it.”
In Canada and parts of Europe, there have been attempts to move to an Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) management system, in which individual companies are required to manage a volume of ELT tires commensurate with what they put into the market.
“If Company A sold 100,000 tires into the market, they would need to satisfy to the regulator that they managed a comparable amount of ELTs,” he said. An IPR bill in Ontario died after the prime minister called for new elections, but the issue is sure to return soon, according to Mr. Maidment. In the approximately 25 years of experience in ELT management, many features have been shown to work, he said. Chief among them: “Someone must be responsible.”
“Producers must be allowed to form a collective agency to manage this part of the business. It is in no one's interest to force tire manufacturers into the waste management business. If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.”
ELT management companies should also demand cost efficiencies, invest in research and development projects, promote market development and have dedicated funding through eco fees, according to Mr. Maidment. The U.S., the United Kingdom and Germany all have robust free-market scrap tire programs and have successfully avoided establishing ELT corporations.
“But remember, my original premise is that the tire industry needs to prepare for the inevitable growth in the developing world,” he said. “Do India, China, Southeast Asia or South America have the free market system we have here, or the same recycling business?”
The global tire industry is expected to increase 4.3 percent annually, with two-thirds of the growth in Asia, according to Mr. Maidment. “The good news is the tire industry has the knowhow and capabilities to manage the future flow, because they now know what works and what doesn't.”