Can Tires Be Recycled? You’d Be Surprised to Know the Answer!

Did you know that we produce over 6 million tons of waste tires every year? That’s enough tires to cover the entire pyramid of Giza. Old tires are a big headache all over the world. They are ending up in the landfills or being burnt- none of which are good solutions. The worst-case scenario is already in action- they have ended up in the whole animal food chain! Recycling is one of the most effective ways of dealing with waste material. But can tires be recycled properly? Or they are too difficult to process? Let’s find out.

What Are Tires Made of? 

Tires are a combination of two types of rubber- natural and synthetic. Almost 19% of it is natural rubber while 24% being synthetic. Other than that, there are some metals and adhesives in them. Synthetic rubber is the fundamental reason behind the ‘tire problem’. These are actually plastic polymers that are not biodegradable. It has been almost 90 years since DuPont first industrialized the manufacturing of synthetic rubber. Although we can’t deny the importance of this invention, we have to admit how the production impacted the environment. Tire pollution has been a burning issue worldwide, often literally. It’s not just on the ground-the effect is everywhere.

Tired of Tires? 

If you’ve been following the news lately, the world is dealing with a lot of challenges. One of the main current challenges is plastic pollution. Tires are one of the worst kinds of plastic wastes. It’s hard to fathom how an important object like this can create such havoc. People think that car exhausts are the worst polluters, but tires can be worse. To give you an idea of why tires are considered a hazard, let’s look at some stats. Tire wear particles can pollute the air 1000 times worse than the car’s exhaust. The scariest part is that tire wastes and the subsequent pollution were never brought into focus, until now. Car companies put more emphasis on the exhaust part only. Result? We are ending up with 1 billion waste tires worldwide every year. 

They Have Made It to Ocean

Tires at the landfills are bad but tires in the ocean are just horrific. Wondering how a huge tire can end up in the ocean? Waste tires, along with their cousins, plastic bottles and plastic packaging, are thrown into the ocean after use. In 2014, a biologist called john Weinstein and his grad students went hunting for microplastics- the small chunks of degraded plastic. Guess what they found? Countless black, tubular-shaped microplastics in the ocean water. There can be only one source for this type of waste. Tires. How tire can end up in the ocean? Firstly, they are dumped in the ocean by many manufacturing companies or scrap tire business. The second reason is more dangerous. When tires roll away, small pieces of plastics wear out. They are washed off by rain into the streams, reaching their final place-the ocean.

Almost 28% of microplastics in the ocean come from tire wear as they wear down.  You must be thinking of why microplastics are the villain of this tragedy. Microplastics might not harm you that much if you happen to find them in your food once or twice. Repeated consumption on the other hand might cause many health problems. But it will certainly harm the biodiversity in the ocean. In fact, it already has, big time. Researchers are now finding them in fish guts. They are damaging an undefined number of aquatic lives.

Tire Fires Are Dangerous 

Tires can be harmful without going to the microscopic level. Sometimes, the effect ends in tragedy. Fire incidents from tires have claimed many lives over the years. Tires don’t self-ignite and neither are they dangerously combustible like oil or gas. While there are many scrap tire recycling companies currently, a large chunk still remains unused. In many places, the unused tires are burned purposefully. The problem is, the fire from burning tires is very difficult to extinguish. What’s worse is the aftereffect. The air becomes filled with soot, which then breaks down into more toxic gases. Even the soil becomes polluted with harmful hydrocarbons. 

Can Tires Be Recycled?

So, now we know tires are non-biodegradable and impacting the Earth negatively. Simply put, it’s a waste. And most waste can be processed. So, can tires be recycled? It’s a challenging task but it can be. With great challenges come great innovations. In recent years, scientists and engineers have been coming up with many recycling solutions. Tires can be made into useful things- from oils to making a playground- they can be transformed into many things.

Recycle or Repurpose?

People often end up confusing these two terms. Many people think repurposing tires actually recycling. But these two concepts are fundamentally different. It’s important to understand the difference. Repurpose means to use them differently, reusing them in different contexts. For example, many people use scrap tires as a reusable table, pet beds, and so on. Recycling is a bit more complex than that. It is more of a large scale work taken up by industry. There’s no comparison between them-no better or worse as we’d discover in a while.

How Tires Are Recycled?

Recycling tires is a difficult job. It took years of research to end up with feasible solutions. There are some very interesting recycling projects going on, some flourishing to a successful industry. Let’s have a look at how tires are being recycled industrially worldwide.

1. Making playground

Scrap tires can be recycled to make playgrounds! That’s right. Tires can be shredded using a special machine to end up in the ‘crumb’ stage. Basically, it means shredding them to the point of being as fine as bread crumbs. Needless to say, the machine that’s designed to break down tires is quite complex and expensive. Only a handful of companies currently recycle tires like this. What happens to these crumbs? The possibility is endless. Most of these tire crumbs are added to artificial grass. This synthetic combo is then used on playgrounds. Some of these processed rubber crumbs are also used to make the insoles of the shoe. 

2. Tire Oil

The old tires can even be turned into oil! Some companies are actually turning the big black tires and converting them into fuel oil. Tires convert to this form by a complex chemical process called pyrolysis. Basically, if you keep tires at very high pressure and temperature, they turn into oil. It’s the same process that made it possible for us to get coal or natural gas from underneath the ground. Now, scientists are trying to recreate this process in labs and now in industries to turn tires into oil! Exciting, huh? The only downside is that the process is quite expensive and complicated. But, it’s still a huge milestone. Waste tire oil can actually bed turned into diesel oil. Imagine a car running its own tire oil! This is the beauty of recycling.

3. Making Building

Waste tires are even used to make houses! In many cement industries, old tires are used as fuel. Cement industries actually have a kiln to burn fuel. As a recycling solution, many cement industries have started to use scrap tires are fuel for the kiln. This is a great way to recycle this stubborn waste. There are many limitations of burning tires but cement kilns are maybe one of the very few instances you can burn the tires directly. 

4. Building Roads

Tires are being used to make roads now. Tire-Derived Aggregate or TDA is the main raw material here. TDA also happens to be the largest use of recycled tires in the US. How does it work? Tires are cut into very small pieces of varying size or TDA. These are then used in many construction projects. One of those applications is rubberized asphalt. Asphalt is in turn used to make roads. A company called CALRecycle is making this project a reality. They have started to incorporate this waste into the road making ingredients. How cool is that? An interesting thing to note- tires can be easily recyclable when they are shredded into very small pieces. Remember, tires are nothing but a special type of plastic. They are not bio-degradable, and that’s exactly they make a great ingredient for construction work.

5. Wheel to Steel

Turns out they rhyme for a reason. Wheels can be made into steel! If you have ever dug in about how steel is made, you’d know that coal plays a huge role. A lot of heat and power is needed for steel industries and coal is the traditional go-to choice. Unfortunately, using coal is not the best choice anymore. Coal is one of the main reasons for climate change. Now, old tires are being used instead of coal during steelmaking. The whole concept is very intriguing and already applied in many countries. Transforming scrap rubber into valuable steel- perfect win-win situation!

How Can I Contribute to Recycling Tires? 

All of the recycling solutions we’ve seen so far are usually not something you can do at home. These are very industrialized solutions. Many might wonder, can tires be recycled at home? They can be on a small scale, but you would need special permissions and need to read a bunch of policies. The best thing you can do as an individual is to make the recycling process a bit easier. How to do that? Let’s find out.

  • If you have scrap tires, drop them off at a nearby recycling facility. You can even contact them to take them from you, many companies do that. Just simply load them up together and haul them to the nearest facility.
  • You can even sell your scrap tires to many processing centers. These companies buy scrap tried from individuals to be recycled into a valuable product.
  • There are some communities that host tire recycling events. You can try to attend those and donate your scrap tires.
  • There are many tire retailers who collect scrap tires from home. Some auto shops accept old tires too, so if you know any try to contact them.

These are a few ways you can contribute to recycling tires. You might not make tires into oil in your backyard, but you’d be certainly helping many recycling initiatives and also helping the environment.

Upcycling Tires by Yourself 

You can use old tires in so many ways! If you are at a loss of what to do with an old tire, fear not, there are plenty of ways to repurpose them. These are DIY projects you can do by yourself.

1. Make them into next level furniture

The ring shape of tires proved to be very useful. Many people make their old tires into beautiful ottoman tables. No wonder why this DIY project is so popular because it actually works. If you are into crafts, you can definitely make a bohemian style cover to be draped over it.

2. Repurpose them as mirrors

You can take creativity to next level and end up with a beautiful mirror frame out of old tires. Just cut the rubber portion of the tire and place an oval-shaped mirror. If done right, you should end up with a repurposed tire mirror. And if you happen to be a craft master, consider selling them!

3. Use them as planters

This is another popular DIY technique and a good one. You can use old tires to store a plant! It’s somewhat poetic even-using the cause of mass deforestation to save plants. You can go the extra mile and make a planter out of the tire-design the cover with crocheted design and turn it into art!

4. Something for the kids

If tires had any other purpose, it would be used as swings. Tire swings are an old method of repurposing, but it’s the most used one. You need the minimal work to do in this case- just hang the tire to some ropes and voila! You will end up with the perfect playground for the kids. 

Final Thoughts 

Tire pollution is a big issue worldwide. But luckily, there are solutions too. Now you know that not only can tires be recycled but they can be repurposed in many ways. This article gives an overview of how this waste material is made to be a valuable resource!

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