Recycling tires usually begins with the public bringing tires in for proper disposal under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Local governments encourage citizens to bring their old tires to recycling centers or drop-off sites, while at the same time imposing laws against unauthorized tire dumping to reinforce proper disposal. In some cases, state governments will provide funding for tire “amnesty” days to promote tire disposal efforts. Recycling centers accept the waste tires and sort them by their condition.
To find out how your community deals with waste tires you can:
- Contact any tire store and ask if it accepts tires for recycling. Usually, a store that sells tires also accepts old ones, though there will probably be a small fee involved.
- Phone city hall and inquire about special recycle days. Many communities schedule a yearly drop off day for tires and other items that the regular garbage pickup doesn’t accept, or that normally includes an extra disposal fee that is waived on these amnesty days.
- Locate a recycle center in your county by looking in the yellow pages under “Recycling Centers” or use an internet search engine. Include your state or county in the search.
Collected tires are stored at the collection point awaiting regular pick-ups by a recycling company. Various uses can be made of old tires depending on the tire, its condition, and the resources available to the recycling company.
Some recycling companies will remove the steel bead from inside the tires and send the remaining rubberized component through a mechanical shredder, cutting or stamping processes to convert chunks of the tires into new products. These products may include parts for cars or household appliances, soles for shoes, floor mats and belts.
Crumbled or shredded tires (with the steel belting material removed) make a good material for playground surfaces, offering a softer landing area than the gravel or pebbles traditionally used to cover schoolyards. Schools may either dump the crumbled tires onto the playground in loose form or create a soft foam surface by using heat to fuse the pieces together. These surfaces make playgrounds both safer and more comfortable for students. Many schools are using rubber as the running surface for tracks in sports arenas. State and local governments also use asphalt made from tire rubber.
In many cases, a tire requiring only new tread may end up back on the road. A tire manufacturer can grind off the old tread and replace it with new tread. Since a retreaded tire uses only 7 gallons of oil to produce, as opposed to 22 gallons for each new tire, retreading represents an annual oil savings in the millions of gallons of oil. Industrial and governmental organizations make extensive use of retreaded tires in their vehicles, as do commercial haulers.
Some of today’s tires may find new life as tomorrow’s fuel. The EPA has funded research into pyrolysis: using high levels of heat to reduce tires into chemical byproducts such as oils, gases or carbon black, and to examine the many possible uses of such byproducts. Various projects continue to explore methods of helping to conserve the crude oil originally used to produce the tires.
There are also many less dramatic ways to recycle or repurpose tires no longer suited for use on your vehicle. Some of these can be used by citizens to directly recycle the tires and avoid the disposal fees and hauling.
- Intact tires may connected together into long chains to act as protective barriers for car racetracks or as frameworks for artificial reef systems.
- Hang the tire from a sturdy tree limb with a strong rope or a chain to create an old-school yard toy that still delights children today. (Drill a good-sized hole through the bottom of the tire to allow rainwater to drain out.)
- Turn old tires into raised bed planters by filling them with soil. The same resistance to decomposition that makes them a hazard when improperly disposed of makes them ideal for use in your flower garden. Just one caution about growing food in tires: they contain cadmium to fix the color in the rubber. Cadmium, though little talked about, is one of the more poisonous metals in our environment. Potatoes are known to accumulate cadmium, as do cabbages, carrots, radishes, lettuce, and turnips. You can arrange 5 tires in a pyramid to make a nifty strawberry bed. Or to disguise them, cut slits through the middle all the way round one side with a Sawsall and turn them inside out so they look like old fashioned egg timers. Paint the outside, put some weed barrier under, fill with soil, plant up and away you go! (instructions)
- Large numbers of tires can be stacked and filled with earth, rock or concrete to form long-lasting retaining walls.
- A truck or tractor tire makes a good sand box for children.
- If you’re a motor head, use old tires to make unique tables for the patio or the Man Cave. You can use a wooden cable spool as a base, fasten the tire on top, then cover with a disk of tempered glass or steel diamond plate.
- Fill an old tire (or two) with concrete and it becomes a good base for a basketball hoop (insert the pole before the concrete sets) teeter-totter, or spring base riding toy.
- Crafty (and persistent) folks have made old tires into new belts, suspender and sandals for themselves or to sell. Tire-tread sandals leave some interesting foot prints!
- Whole scrap tires can be used as erosion control on lake shores, around bridges and provide fish shelter in wetland habitats, when fully submerged.
With so many great uses for old tires, PLEASE don’t just chuck them out along the side of some little-traveled road!