Tires, rubber, burnouts and environmental disasters

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.

Tire burnouts can be spectacular, but certainly doesn’t help in terms of scrap tire pollution.
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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.

World Environment Day

Today we celebrate World Environment Day, a global event initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to promote awareness regarding global environmental issues, and to create positive environmental action. Its a day for all people to join hands and start taking action to ensure a cleaner, greener, brighter future.

The 2012 theme for World Environment Day is Green Economy: Does it include you? In the first place, this is meant to raise general awareness of the concept of the “green economy”, and secondly to promote personal involvement in activities supporting a greener future. Simply stated, the green economy is one “whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services” (UNEP, 2012).

The theme for World Environment Day 2012 is Green Economy: Does it include you?
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At a macro level, the green economy is about a move to more sustainable energy sources such as solar, water and wind energy, about infrastructure development promoting green buildings and clean transportation, about water and waste management, about big business investing in more sustainable business practices, and about sustainable job creation and poverty reduction.

While these are all critically important initiatives that need to be promoted and supported, it really does start with each of us, at an individual level, investing in a more environmentally aware lifestyle. Recycling household waste, doing your own composting, growing your own (organic) fruit and veges, conserving water and electricity, minimising waste, buying used products & buying bulk – these are all ways in which we can do our bit for a greener, healthier planet.

The green economy is all about preserving our natural heritage for future generations.
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For more ideas on living responsibly, this How to be Green Guide is a nice place to start.

Enjoy the world, responsibly!