What is an End-of-Life Tire?
According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a tire is considered to be at the end of its life when it can no longer be used on vehicles (after having been re-treaded or re-grooved). All tires including passenger car, truck, airplane, two-wheel and offroad tires result in end-of-life tires. However, the bulk of ELTs result from car and truck tires.
It is estimated that every year, a total of one billion ELTs are generated. Disposing of these tires in an environmentally sound and productive manner is a high priority goal of the tire business today.
Cooperation between tire manufacturers, retailers, and governments is essential if end-of-life tires are to be managed sustainably. Across the globe, various regional initiatives have been launched to address this issue and are supported by government authorities, individual tire manufacturers, and the broader tire industry.
These initiatives recognize that neither the impact nor the value of a tire ends when it can no longer be used on a vehicle. Even at this stage, it still has value as an energy source or as a secondary raw material. ELT recovery provides cost-effective and environmentally sound energy for several industries and can be used as innovative secondary raw materials for the production of new products. However, whilst recovery rates are currently as high as 96% in some regions, effective management is not commonplace across the globe and ELTs continue to be sent to landfill and stockpiles.
The Environmental Impact of a Tire & ELT Uses
Discussion on the environmental impact of tires frequently focuses on the management of tires that have reached the end of their useful life (End-of-Life Tires, or ELTs).
In many countries, however, tires have been regarded as a waste and are discarded in landfills or stockpiles, creating the potential for fires and infestation.
Even if safe management practices are in place, however, tire landfilling and dumping are unsustainable practices that have a significant land-use, and are a missed opportunity to gain benefits from recovery and reuse of tires.
While the recovering and reprocessing end-of-life tires have a small environmental impact (less than 5% of the total), it is a visible one, and of concern to many stakeholders. ELTs have a variety of uses and they are increasingly being viewed as a resource instead of a waste. Environmental issues continue to be a driving force behind ELT recycling, and as the recycling industry develops with legislative and infrastructure support, it is becoming clear that there can be significant benefits. ELT recovery provides cost-effective and environmentally sound energy for several industries. It also provides innovative materials for civil engineering products. ELTs can also replace other limited natural resources.
Recovery of end-of-life tires reduces waste and provides a fuel and material source that can replace other scarce natural resources. ELTS can be a low-cost source of fuel when located near a major fuel consumer, such as a power plant or cement kiln. Tire-derived fuel (TDF) is the biggest use for ELTs in the US and Japan.
Raw materials production and tire manufacturing account for the next greatest impact, as ELTs can be readily processed for a diverse range of construction projects. Whole or shredded tires can be used in civil engineering projects such as embankments, backfill for walls, road insulation, field drains, erosion control/rainwater runoff barriers, jetty bumpers and sea breakwaters. ELTs can also be converted into ground or crumb rubber that can then be used for rubber-modified asphalt, running tracks, sports fields, ground cover under playgrounds, molded rubber products and mulch in landscape applications. Tires are lightweight, permeable, good insultators, shock and noise absorbent and long lasting.