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Tires are indeed no friends to the environment. Most tires on the road today are constructed of roughly equal parts natural rubber, petroleum and “carbon black” filler (derived partially from burned fossil fuels), along with a dash of other chemical additives to improve functionality. The tire industry has embraced recycling in recent years, but still some 25 percent of tires wind up in landfills, according to Business Ethics. Still, others are incinerated, which releases benzene, lead, butadiene, styrene and other potential carcinogens into the air we breathe.

Advancing Changes in Tire Construction

In response to such criticism, tire engineers have begun incorporating a wide range of new materials as substitutes for petroleum and chemical fillers. What’s in these greener tires? Chemically toughened natural rubbers, vegetable-based processing oils, and fibers made of plant cellulose are used to replace some of the petroleum in the newer so-called “low-oil” tires. Meanwhile, environmentally benign silica filler (sand microparticles) has been used to replace some of the carbon black reinforcement, with the added benefit of further reducing road friction.

Recycling Efforts Within the Industry

While greener tires are already available, tire makers have been re-doubling efforts to recycle old tires into new ones to further reduce the industry’s environmental impact. Small quantities of reprocessed rubber are showing up increasingly in new tires, but manufacturers would like to see more of the 75 million or so tires Americans send to landfills get reprocessed to live another useful day as new tires or other products.

Upcycling Alternative to Try Around Your Own Home

  • Gravel Substitute. Anywhere gravel is used, chances are that tire chips can be used instead.
  • Crumb Rubber. Crumb rubber is finely ground rubber produced from waste tires.
  • Landfill Medium. Shredded or chipped tires can be used as both a liner and/or a cover for landfills.
  • Wastewater Treatment Filters
  • Garden Mulch

Learn more about tire recycling alternatives here.

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Sources: Business Ethics, NERC

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