HALIFAX, Nova Scotia — It was nearly two intense days of presentations and discussions devoted to aspects of the tire industry that rarely get discussed in independent tire shops across the U.S.: Sustainability and recycling.
Let's be honest, those subjects hold as much appeal as a root canal in most quarters across the U.S.
But to those 100 or so who attended the 2023 Tire and Rubber Association of Canada's (TRAC) Rubber Recycling Symposium (called Journey to Sustainability), held Oct. 4-5 at the Lord Nelson Hotel in Halifax, those topics were discussed, dissected and debated as much as any critical global issue.
The first takeaway from my seat is this: Commitment.
Officials from all aspects of the tire industry, including tire manufacturers, auto makers, recyclers and select governmental agencies, are deeply committed not only in working toward the production of more sustainable tires, but also disposing of them responsibly.
That commitment was clear in presentations from stakeholders both in the room and around the globe. Among those presenters were keynote speaker Larisa Kryachkova, executive director of the Tire Industry Project, who discussed her group's mission virtually from Paris; Lina Goodman, CEO of Tyre Stewardship Australia, who spoke on the challenges her group faces in recycling tires Down Under; and Fredrik Ardefors, CEO of the Swedish Tyre Recycling Organization, who detailed an innovative tire recycling initiative his group has begun in Sweden.
Closer to home, several passionate individuals from tire makers and recyclers alike spoke on the topic, including Maureen Kline, vice president, public affairs and sustainability, from Pirelli Tire North America; Jay Spears, director of standards and regulations at Continental Tire the Americas L.L.C.; Steve Meldrum, CEO of eTracks Tire Management Systems; Derek Breedon, global business model leader, retreading and recycling, Michelin North American (Canada) Inc.; and Nick Santero, leading sustainability science team leader at electric vehicle maker Rivian.
Here's how engaged attendees and presenters were: After each session, TRAC allowed for questions and comments. At other industry events, attendees often sit silent during the Q&A session and the program moves on.
In several instances here, however, there wasn't enough time for all the questions and comments to be heard. Some of the sessions could have lasted hours, if not for the smart cadence demonstrated by the moderators.
That leads to another takeaway. The rest of the free world is much more concerned about addressing recycling and sustainability than those of us in the U.S.
In fact, one presenter from North America jokingly called Americans "slobs."
Confession: I have come to that conclusion myself, too, after vacationing in Northern Ontario for more than three decades. Canadians, even in remote areas where our family vacations, follow strict guidelines for recycling, separating plastics, paper, glass and food scraps.
Here at home, my wife and I voluntarily drive several miles each week to recycle some of our waste. Others we know have little motivation to do the same, mixing glass, plastics and aluminum with everyday trash.
At the symposium, representatives from tire recycling stewardship programs in nearly every Canadian province shared their practices. Each program was a little different, nuanced, but successful nonetheless.
And finally, here's the third takeaway: The U.S. has taken its first step toward a viable stewardship program.
John Sheerin, director of End of Life (ELT) programs at the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA), gave a brief overview of Connecticut House Bill 6486, which establishes the first extended producer responsibility law enacted in the U.S.
In a nutshell, the legislation, signed into law on June 30, requires tire manufacturers to finance, operate and report on the post-consumer management of tires they sell into the marketplace. Essentially, the law holds tire makers responsible for ensuring proper recycling of tires, with the written intent to decrease illegal dumping, boost retreading and recycling — and save taxpayers money.
Sheerin, working alongside members of the USTMA that includes a dozen of the world's top tire makers (Bridgestone, Continental, Giti, Goodyear, Hankook, Kumho, Michelin, Nokian, Pirelli, Sumitomo, Toyo and Yokohama), is in the very early stages of working to establish a stewardship.
According to the law, any stewardship must have an operating plan submitted by Jan. 1, 2025, the same deadline for all producers to be members of a stewardship. The projected start date of the project is fall 2025.
Once those entities are established, any facility in the state that sells tires won't be required to charge any disposal or recycling fees.
While the industry was opposed to the plan, Sheerin and others are working to create a stewardship that other states can replicate.
"The initial setup is going to be a challenge, as we have never done this before," Sheerin told me. "A lot of stakeholders have to participate in order to get it right."
This could be the first step in one other takeaway: tire sustainability and recycling won't be completely successful in the U.S. until all stakeholders, including tire dealers and consumers, give it more than just lip service and prioritize the process.
The Rubber Recycling Symposium was a great way to get the conversation going.