One of the most revolutionary inventions in the history of mankind was the wheel, and the best upgrade to that invention was the rubber tire, which overcame the limitations of wooden or metal wheels and made it possible to have smooth rides at fast speeds.
However, there is a significant drawback to using rubber tires: eventually, they get too worn out to be useful as tires anymore and have to be replaced. Every year, billions of tires are manufactured and billions of other tires reach the end of their lives on the road. In the US alone, 315 million waste tires are generated per year.
Disposal of these old tires has presented a serious challenge for more than half a century. Individual tires take up a lot of space and they aren’t made of biodegradable materials. Today, the majority of scrap tires are shredded and the rubber used for new purposes, but that wasn’t always the solution. In past decades, several methods of getting rid of them seemed like great ideas at first, but ultimately backfired (often in the form of actual fire), with serious consequences for the surrounding wildlife.
Because of their shape, tires take up a lot more volume than their mass requires. When they go to landfills, all that extra volume is wasted, leaving less room for other refuse and necessitating additional landfills. Even worse, tires buried in landfills can trap methane gasses and float to the surface, where they may rupture the landfill’s liner, sending all kinds of toxins into the soil and surrounding groundwater.
By the ‘60s, landfills were already turning away scrap tires, but there wasn’t yet an effective way of recycling them. Consequently, around three billion of them had accumulated in stockpiles of dubious legality by the early ‘90s. These stockpiles were above-ground, which allowed stagnant rainwater to collect inside the tires and turned them into mosquito nurseries of epic proportions. The swarms of tire-raised mosquitoes brought the threat of diseases like West Nile to surrounding populations. Rats also made their homes in the tires.
Though we write about tire stockpiles in the past-tense, they haven’t completely disappeared. Dramatic improvements in tire recycling have greatly reduced the number of tires stockpiled across the nation and many states are now stockpile-free, Texas and Colorado combined still contain at least thirty million scrap tires in stockpiles.
The main threat stockpiled tires pose to the environment and wildlife is far worse than mosquitoes. Whether by arson or by accident, tire stockpiles are notorious for catching on fire, and the results are nothing short of hellish. One of the largest tire fires was the Rhinehart tire fire in 1983 in Virginia. Seven million tires stored on five acres of land caught fire. They burned for nine months, covering the area in toxic molten rubber sludge and sending smoke across four states. Fortunately, the EPA was able to contain the worst of the damage, but the cleanup took two decades and $12 million to complete.
Other tire fires, though smaller, had more devastating effects. There were two separate tire fires in 1999, one in California and the other in Ohio, each in stockpiles with seven million tires. The fire in Ohio contaminated 120,000 tons of soil and sent toxic oil into a nearby creek, where it killed thousands of fish and left the water so contaminated that it cost over $7 to clean.
The most recent tire fire broke out in Odessa, Texas in April of this year, when 100,000 tires caught fire. That was a very small tire fire compared to many others, and yet residents of the town were still advised to stay indoors and close their windows to avoid breathing in any of the hundreds of pollutants in the thick black smoke stretching for miles.
Artificial Tire Reefs
As dangerous as tires are when they catch fire, they aren’t safe underwater either. In the early ‘70s, two million tires were dumped into the ocean off the coast of Florida, bundled together. The idea was that these tires could serve as real estate for all kinds of plants and animals in the sea. Artificial rubber, however, is not a hospitable environment, especially when the bundles started breaking apart, sending rogue tires in every direction.
Even though tires are nonbiodegradable, that doesn’t mean certain components in them don’t break down over time. Zinc, copper, chromium, lead, cadmium, and sulfur—all highly toxic—gradually leach out of tires. When those tires have been dumped into the ocean to form an artificial reef, all those chemicals go straight into the water, making it uninhabitable for most forms of sea life. Individual tires can also occasionally break loose, get caught up in the ocean’s currents, and go crashing through living coral in real reefs.
The Florida artificial tire reef and others around the world are now in the difficult and expensive process of being cleaned up before they do more damage.
Tire Shredders: A More Eco-Friendly Alternative
Many of the solutions for disposing of whole used tires en masse have proven disastrous from an environmental conservation standpoint. People can “upcycle” individual tires into lawn furniture or playground equipment, but that only takes care of a tiny percentage of the world’s old tires. Far more tires have ended up in landfills, stockpiles, tire fires, and the ocean. However, all that changed with the advent of the tire shredder.
Using tire shredders opens up many possibilities for safer and more efficient recycling. One reason for this is that tire shredding isn’t just about reducing the size of the artificial rubber; it also involves removing some of the components, like metals, that are particularly prone to chemical leaching. And, shredding tires means that the ability to recycle them and transfer them into something new grows exponentially.
EcoGreen’s shredders are the best in the tire recycling industry. We can answer any questions you may have about tire shredding, and we invite you to contact our experts today to learn more.