WASHINGTONTire Makers Roll out Good News for National Recycling Week was the Rubber Manufacturers Association's (RMA) banner story for Nov. 7, and indeed the news was good for tire and rubber recycling.
In 1990, the year the RMA began its scrap tire program, there were 1 billion scrap tires stockpiled in the U.S., and only 10 percent of scrap tires found their way to end-use markets.
By 2013, the number of stockpiled tires had fallen to 75 million, and the recycling rate for scrap tires stood at 95 percent. The stockpiling rate stood to plunge again in 2014, when Colorado passed a scrap tire law designed to make serious inroads in the state's 60-million-tire-plus monofill (see legislation review on page 10).
Nevertheless, tire recyclingor at least certain aspects of itremained controversial in 2014. Where-as tire-derived fuel received the most criticism from environmentalists in past years, rubber mulch and athletic turf were the lightning rods this year.
In February, a columnist for the Danbury, Conn., News-Times called for a ban on rubber mulch as playground surfacing, based on the results of studies performed in Connecticut, Washington state and elsewhere.
The controversy was compounded in October when NBC News ran a story about young soccer players who were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after years of playing on recycled rubber crumb in artificial grass athletic fields.
The RMA was quick to defend rubber mulch. The preponderance of extant studies shows that recycled rubber in athletic fields and playgrounds presents no danger to humans, the association said. It also noted the NBC News report presented only anecdotal causal links between recycled rubber and blood cancers, with no substantive facts or new information.
But recycled rubber playground surfacing makers had good news in June, when the American Society for Testing and Materials issued Standard F3012, the Standard Specification for Loose-Fill Rubber for Use as a Playground Safety Surface under and around Playground Equipment. The new standard was a significant step forward for standardization within the rubber playground industry.
Tire recycling made negative news late in 2014 when residents of a Louisville, Ky., neighborhood sued Liberty Tire Recycling L.L.C. after a scrap tire fire at the firm's Louisville facility (see litigation review on page 11). The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sued Harlingen-based pyrolysis company Tire Recycling & Processing L.L.C. for storing too many tires on its property.
The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) levied a $965,000 fine against Ballico, Calif.-based Golden By-Products Inc. for storing several times the 150,000 passenger-tire-equivalents (PTEs) specified in its permit. CalRecycle and Golden By-Products later reached a settlement that forgave most of the fine.
For the most part, news about tire recycling concentrated on growth, expansion and other positives.
One of the fastest-moving companies in the rubber recycling business was Atlanta-based Lehigh Technologies Inc., which processes engineered rubber powders for a variety of applications.
Among the events Lehigh announced in 2014 were:
c Implementing a plan to market its Polydyne micronized rubber powders (MRPs) in Japan and South Korea;
c Electing Lamar Chambers, former senior vice president and chief financial officer of Ashland Inc., to the Lehigh board of directors;
c Creating a dedicated polyurethane technical team to expand its business in the polyurethane area; and
c Collaborating with Rehopave Technologies L.L.C. on rubberized asphalt technology.
Titan International Inc., one of the prominent names in specialty and off-the-road tire manufacturing, also announced a big move in tire recycling in 2014. In June, Titan said it would open a tire pyrolysis plant in the oil sands territory near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The plant, which would reclaim rubber, carbon black and steel from OTR tires, would use the pyrolysis method developed by Georgia-based Green Carbon L.L.C.
Fred Taylor, owner of Green Carbon, is the brother of Titan Chairman and CEO Maurice Morry Taylor Jr.
Several recycling and retreading companies announced major investments in 2014.
Danish recycling firm Genan Inc. opened what it claimed is the world's largest tire recycling plant in Houston, built at a cost of $140 million. The plant has the capacity to recycle 10 million tires annuallyone-third of the scrap tires generated in Texas every year.
Green Arc Tire Manufacturing Inc., a start-up passenger tire retreading firm, announced a $37 million investment to build a plant in St. Marys, Ontario, and signed a deal with rubber compounder Airboss of America Corp. to supply up to 34 million pounds of rubber annually.
East Bay Tire Co., a Fairfield, Calif.-based commercial and wholesale tire dealer, acquired Oahu, Hawaii-based retreader Rainbow Tire and renamed the operation EBT Eco. East Bay said it would use Michelin North America Inc.'s Oliver Rubber retreading system to produce 10,000 tires annually at EBT Eco's 7,500-sq.-ft. plant.
Liberty Tire announced a long-term supply contract with Global Clean Energy Inc. (GCE), a waste-to-energy alternative fuels company, to supply tire chips for a new pyrolysis facility to be built in a location yet to be announced.
As some recycling firms expanded, others chose to divest. Fred Farrell and Larry Lambiotte, owners of Vicksburg, Miss.-based Polyvulc USA Inc., retained Easton, Md.-based Heritage Equity Partners to help them seek buyers for their primary plastics injection molding business and two rubber recycling subsidiaries.
Tire and rubber recycling companies strove to practice what they preached in 2014, announcing or supporting new recycling initiatives and generally trying to be as green as possible.
Group Michelin announced its eight-year, $69 million TREC tire recycling initiative designed to find new ways to reclaim scrap tires both mechanically and chemically. In April, Bridgestone Americas and Liberty Tire hosted a Recycle Florida 2014 event in Clearwater to highlight the benefits of rubberized asphalt.
Del-Nat Tire Corp. said its recycling program helped save the equivalent of 204 trees, 40 cubic yards of landfill space and 84,000 gallons of water in 2013. Goodyear's global headquarters in Akron won a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, and Ontario Tire Stewardship announced a 98-percent savings on paper when it introduced an electronic manifest system.
Hennessy Industries Inc.'s BADA wheel weight won Sears Holdings Corp.'s Partners in Transformation Award for implementing a closed-loop recycling system. Also in 2014, BADA won General Motors Co.'s Supplier Quality Excellence Award for the third year in a row.
Tommy Daughtrey, president of Duncan, Okla.-based tire recycling firm Four D Corp., won the 2014 Tire Processor Chapter's Service to Industry Award from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
Governmental and institutional researchers announced exciting advances in rubber recycling technology. Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., developed technology to convert scrap tires into material that can improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles and solar energy units.
Also, the Technological Institute of Plastics in Valencia, Spain, said it created a more durable and sustainable asphalt mix by using a combination of scrap tires and plastic waste.
RMA Vice President Michael Blumenthal, a 24-year RMA veteran who guided the group's scrap tire management efforts, retired in July. He was instrumental in writing scrap tire legislation in virtually all U.S. states and securing passage of those bills in state legislatures. Mr. Blumenthal went on to form his own consulting firm, Marshay Inc.
John Sheerin, former environmental director of Bridgestone Retail Operations L.L.C., replaced Mr. Blumenthal as RMA director, end-of-life tires.