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The Scrap Tire Challenge and Alternative Solutions
There are few man-made things more durable than a tire.

A resilient mixture of fabric, steel, carbon black and several different types of natural and synthetic rubber, tires carry us to work, school or play across our country – safely.

However, all of the characteristics that make tires invaluable create a special challenge. What do you do when tires wear out?

The fact is, making a tire is like baking a cake – it’s a one way process. The sulfur and carbon in rubber, like flour and sugar in a cake, are bonded together and inseparable, which makes tire recycling impossible.

However, scrap tires can be reused or converted to energy. Alternative markets and solutions do exist, and dramatic progress is being achieved. The infrastructure to pick up and deliver tires to those markets also will continue to expand to meet customer needs.

As a producer and marketer of a wide variety of tires, Goodyear is working toward long-term solutions to the scrap tire challenge.

The Scrap Tire Challenge

Goodyear recognizes two separate and distinct problems. 

The first problem is the whole and shredded tires that are stockpiled in almost every state in the nation. Owners call them assets because of their perceived value for fuel or other use. Everyone else realizes the piles are liabilities and will cost more to remove than they are worth in fuel value. 

Technology over the last 20 years has doubled the mileage and lifespan of the typical passenger tire, sebsequently reducing the amount of discarded tires.

There is little or no turnover of the tires stored, and many are abandoned. A 4 million tire pile, which is not uncommon, can represent an income of $1 million to the collector. Unfortunately, the stockpiles are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and fire hazards. There also is concern for who is responsible if the owner cannot finance the eventual cleanup of the pile. 

Any solution must address the various sources of scrap tires. Goodyear's priority is the immediate recycling and recovery of scrap tires through viable, non-subsidized markets. 

Putting tires in stockpiles or landfills - even with shredded materials - provides few benefits. For the first time, less than one-third of the U.S. scrap tires now go to stockpiles or landfills. The majority of tires now placed in landfills have been cut or shredded.

The second problem is the current annual replacement of 253 million tires. Almost 90 percent are returned by the consumer to thousands of retail locations across the country when worn out tires are replaced by new ones.

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Alternative Solutions to the Scrap Tire Challenge

Five alternatives exist for addressing the scrap tire challenge:

Reduce - The first most desirable alternative is source reduction. Goodyear continually strives to reduce the number of tires that are worn out each year. Today’s Goodyear radial tires last twice as long as their predecessors of 20 years ago.

The average motorist may wear out just one or two sets of radial tires per automobile instead of three or four sets of the old bias-ply design. Tomorrow’s tires will last even longer.

Reuse– Understanding the importance of reuse, Goodyear has capitalized on its six decades of retreading technology. The company is the industry leader in the application of new tread for truck and aviation tires.

Significant improvements in retreading permit the average truck tire to be retreaded 2 or 3 times. Airplane tires are retreaded up to 12 times.

Unlike certain plastics, paper and metal products that can be recycled, cured rubber cannot be returned to its virgin state for reuse in a new tire.

Elsewhere, a number of processors pulverize scrap rubber into fine powder for use as a filler in products such as floor mats, carpet backing, a variety of molded goods and rubberized asphalt.

Whole tires, because of their durability, have made excellent protective shore barriers, fish habitats and highway impact barriers. These innovative uses of scrap tires were pioneered by Goodyear in the early 1970’s. Many of the barriers and reefs still are in use.

Recycle - True recycling of vulcanized rubber products through devulcanization is difficult in products like tires where 4 or 5 different rubbers are used in different components.

Recover – Goodyear is a leading advocate for the use of scrap tires as a fuel source -- technology that is transforming the ties into energy.

The energy-rich scrap tire that once sat useless on a stock pile, a garbage dump or a roadside, can help generate energy to run plants and supply electricity for homes. It also can provide energy and iron oxide for cement production.

Tires have about 40 percent more energy value per pound than coal and an energy value equal to oil. The energy released by the combustion of one passenger tire is equal to almost two gallons of oil.

Landfill - Finally, when tires are shredded, they do not create an environmental problem in landfills. A recent study by Radian Consultants verified that scrap tires do not create hazardous leachate. Shredded tires take up less space than whole tires, and their ability to burn is greatly reduced.