BioCycle Magazine

Old Tires Face the Zero Waste Option

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Courtesy of Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

TIRE PILES and tire fires were a prominent environmental burden 20 years ago, but today's options are cleaner with better economic payback. Recovery and use of rubber as an industrial material are far more valuable than use of these feedstocks as fuel. While the price of energy may have doubled in the past few years, the price of virgin rubber compounds has more than tripled - from 30 cents to 95 cents per pound. Tire derived fuel (TDF) sells for about one cent per pound, but even cheap rubber compounds begin at 70 cents per pound. (Also, 6,000 lbs of CO2 greenhouse gas are emitted into the atmosphere from each one-ton of burned tire shreds.) One company, which generates no waste, provides an example of regional and local options available to businesses and government agencies.

ADVAC Elastomers, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers a regional solution to industrial rubber discards and scrap tires by processing this difficult scrap rubber into new virgin-equivalent rubber for reuse by both the generators of the scrap and the open market (tire companies, etc.). Thus, a tolling system has been created in the Milwaukee region for generators to avoid disposal costs and replace virgin materials with cheaper and better quality material for their end products, e.g. tread, mats, bumpers, gaskets, electrical components, seals, hose, belting, shingles.

This closed loop arrangement for the rubber compound industry has meant new industrial jobs for Milwaukee and a number of host community benefits for the areas surrounding the plant, which itself is “recycled” from prior heavy industrial use. The 110,000 sq. ft. plant will complete Phase I capacity to process 40 million pounds of discarded rubber annually and employ over 75 workers at living wage and benefit levels. Currently the plant is operating at partial capacity and is funding its scale up to design capacity.

This model in Milwaukee can work elsewhere. Each full-scale plant can generate about 40 million pounds per year which is only 0.2 percent of total demand for rubber compound in the U.S. Thus there is room for numerous plants throughout the U.S. The technology is not magic. In fact, Fred Stark developed the Tirecycle® system used by ADVAC years ago. His genius included new polymer inventions as well as a reconfiguration of existing processing equipment for crumb rubber. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Tirecycle is that it often outperforms the original expensive virgin compound (both at the manufacturing process stage and in the final consumer product).

Capital cost for each plant is in the $10-$12 million range. A plant needs 80,000-100,000 sq. ft. under roof and another five to eight acres for outside trailers and parking. No rubber discards, scrap tires, or finished product are stored in an uncovered area.

Neil Seldman is president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance based in Washington, D.C.

BASED on an analysis of an enterprise using the Tirecycle system, every ton of tires recycled saves the U.S. economy $760 in balance of trade payments. A typical plant that recycles 1.5 million tires will save the economy $11.5 million in reduced imports (105,000 barrels of oil and 3,600,000 pounds of natural rubber). This would also create over 100 jobs outside the factory in addition to the 100 jobs inside the plant. Plus there are dividends of environmental savings, including acres of landfill capacity.

Copyright 2006, The JG Press

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