WASHINGTON — Tire and rubber recyclers reported solid gains in their businesses in 2015 and growing acceptance of their products in a wide variety of markets.
However, thanks to news events in the fall, synthetic athletic turf made with crumb rubber once again made the recycling industry the subject of a series of unflattering investigative reports.
On Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, NBC Nightly News broadcast an update of its October 2014 report on young women soccer players who were developing various forms of cancer after playing for years on synthetic turf.
According to the new NBC reports, the number of young women diagnosed with cancer had climbed to 63, including 15 fatalities.
The report led to a public outcry from both detractors and supporters of synthetic turf. On one side, the leadership of the House Energy & Commerce Committee sent a formal set of questions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking whether the agency planned to follow up on its 2009 study of crumb rubber turf and also whether it had determined if chemicals in crumb rubber presented any hazard to human health.
On the other, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) also contacted the EPA, asking the agency to publicly defend synthetic turf and highlight the fact that more than 75 studies—including the EPA's own—show synthetic turf to be safe for humans.
For its part, the EPA said it would offer support to the three-year, $2.86 million study by California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to expand the study of the effects of synthetic turf on human health.
ISRI was one of many industry groups—including the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the Safe Fields Alliance and the Rubber Recycling Institute—to defend the safety of synthetic turf on the heels of the NBC broadcasts.
Otherwise, ISRI reported burgeoning business for its members, as well as new initiatives for their benefit.
A May report from ISRI demonstrated that the U.S. scrap recycling industry, in all sectors, adds more than $105 billion to the U.S. economy annually and is responsible for more than 470,000 direct and indirect U.S. jobs, including nearly 150,000 jobs in facilities that process scrap materials into new, usable commodities.
In October, ISRI also announced an alliance with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to promote health and safety in recycling industry workplaces.
ISRI wasn't the only association that was active on behalf of tire and rubber recyclers. In October, the European Tyre Recycling Association (ETRA) and ASTM International announced a collaboration to establish global standards for recycled rubber materials.
The planned standards—for which the ETRA and ASTM scheduled meetings in Brussels, Vienna, Chicago and Tampa—will cover materials including crumb rubber, powders and recovered carbon black, the associations said.
At its 22nd annual conference in April, the ETRA also issued a report stating that European tire manufacturers may be underreporting the number of scrap tires throughout Europe. The European Tyre & Rubber Manufacturers Association refuted the report.
In July, the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Industries introduced a website, www.catra-online.ca/en, to provide up-to-date, comprehensive information about the Canadian tire recycling industry.
Two Canadian provincial tire stewardship organizations had good news for tire buyers. On April 1, Tire Stewardship Manitoba lowered recycling fees on new passenger, light truck, motorcycle, ATV and other small tires to $3.75 from $4.
On May 1, Ontario Tire Stewardship offered even greater reductions for Ontario tire buyers. Stewardship fees on new passenger and light truck tires fell to $4.75 from $5.43, while the fees on medium truck tires dropped to $12.95 from $14.65.
While Canadian provinces generally use tire stewardship programs for managing scrap tires, the RMA and the Tire Industry Association (TIA) oppose tire stewardship in favor of market-based programs.
Both organizations were spurred to state their positions when the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection proposed a tire stewardship program within the state.
“The free-market approach to scrap tire management has produced a phenomenal environmental success story across the U.S.,” said Dan Zielinski, RMA senior vice president-public affairs, at a Jan. 21 hearing in Hartford, Conn.
TIA issued a position paper shortly thereafter, in response to stewardship proposals in Connecticut and other states.
The RMA, TIA and the California Tire Dealers Association also opposed a bill that passed in the California Assembly but failed to become law. That legislation, to promote tire recycling within the state, would have established a Tire Recycling Initiative Program to pay state agencies and municipalities to use crumb in public projects.
Another California bill that would have placed a temporary ban on the installation of synthetic athletic turf, died in committee.
Among other state actions, the Michigan and Nebraska Departments of Environmental Quality announced millions of dollars of scrap tire cleanup and market grants.
However, not all news was happy surrounding scrap tire recycling grants. In May, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's office issued a report showing that the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality was overpaying the state's waste tire processors.
Between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2014, the agency's Waste Tire Management Program paid $71.1 million to Louisiana waste tire processors, the report said.
Among tire recycling companies, Liberty Tire Recycling Holdco L.L.C. completed a financial restructuring in March, and in July quietly closed a Louisville, Ky., recycling plant that had suffered a serious fire the previous November.
Lehigh Technologies Inc., manufacturer of micronized rubber powders (MRPs) from recycled rubber, opened a sales subsidiary in Bar-celona, Spain, in June, with plans for opening in that country a processing facility in Navarra. Also, Lehigh announced in November that it won the iChemE Global Award for Sustainable Technology.
Among activities involving other recycling companies:
- Danish recycling firm Genan Business & Development A/S, which opened a $140 million tire recycling plant in Houston in 2014, announced in February that it had arranged funding from a group of European banks and investors.
- Green Arc Tire Manufacturing Inc. received the necessary environmental permits to establish an industrial-scale passenger retread plant in St. Marys, Ontario.
- German pyrolysis firm Pyrolyx signed a letter of intent with CH2E, the owner of the largest tire pile in the U.S., to establish a pyrolysis plant in Hudson, Colo.
- Bridgestone Americas touted its Tire4ward program at the 2015 Tennessee Environmental Conference in Kingsport, Tenn.
- Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C. said its Sumter, S.C., plant achieved “zero landfill” status, meaning all its waste is reused either as recycled products or energy.
- Tyromer Inc., a rubber devulcanizing firm, opened a plant in Kitchener, Ontario.
Also on the recycling front, Houston-based TreadWright Tires L.L.C. launched a new line of TreadWright-brand retreaded mud-terrain and all-terrain tires. TreadWright's mold-cure production process uses 70-percent recycled materials, the company said.