Fancy a burnout? A donut, perhaps?
No, I’m no street racer, not even much of a petrol-head. I’ve just got rubber and tires on my mind, since today back in 1900 is the day that the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was founded. Even through Firestone cannot lay claim to inventing rubber tires (that honour goes to John Boyd Dunlop for the first pneumatic tire, and to Charles Goodyear for the vulcanisation of natural rubber), they were one of the early pioneers in tire production. Along with Goodyear, they were the largest automotive tire suppliers in the US for the best part of the 20th century.
The company was sold to the Japanese Bridgestone Corporation in 1988.
Given the number of tires produced and sold internationally, the environmental challenges of dealing with scrap tires are quite significant. In the US alone, about 285 million scrap tires are generated every year. Tires dumped in a landfill is a fire hazard – tire fires can burn for months, creating serious air and soil pollution. They can also liquify under high temperatures, releasing hydrocarbons and other harmful contaminants into the ground. Shredded tire pieces are likely to leach even more, due to the increased surface area on the shredded pieces.
The durability of scrap tires do make it suitable for certain recycling applications. Shredded tires, or tire derived aggregate (TDA), can be used as backfill for retaining walls and as vibration damping for railway lines. Ground and crumbed rubber, also known as size-reduced rubber, can be used in paving as well as in moldable products such as flooring, decking, tiles and rubber bricks. These applications, however, only consume a small percentage of the total tire waste produced annually.
The use of tires has also been suggested in the construction of artificial reefs, but the sensibility of this is questionable, with the Osborne Reef, for example, turning into a multi-million dollar environmental nightmare.
Despite all the attempts at solving the problem of scrap tire waste, it remains an environmental nightmare, and the best ‘solution’ probably involves addressing the problem at it’s source – reducing the number of scrap tires produced annually. Small things such as driving sensibly to preserve tire life, carpooling, use of public transport, walking and cycling instead of driving – these may appear arbitrary, but are things we can all do, and while it won’t make the problem go away, it can make a difference in the long run.