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Earth Friendly: Tires must be disposed of responsibly

Nov. 3, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.
Updated Nov. 9, 2010 at 5:09 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

By Meridith Byrd

It is safe to say that most people in our area depend on tires to get around. While some urban areas allow for walking or subways to be the main mode of transportation, Victoria County is largely rural and cars are the norm.

So what happens to your old tires when you have them replaced? According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, our state produces 24 million scrap tires every year, which amounts to about one tire per person. While some tires can be retreaded and put back on the road for use, others are disposed of in landfills or stockpiles, and still others are made into planters and swings, most are broken down and recycled in some form or fashion.

A tire stockpile is exactly what it sounds like: a large pile of nothing but tires. The Rubber Manufacturers Association notes a substantial decrease in the number of tires stockpiled across the United States, from one billion in 1990 to a little more than 100 million in 2007. Stockpiled tires can be dangerous; if a pile catches fire it is extremely difficult to put out due to the tires' petroleum-based nature. These fires produce thick black smoke and toxic runoff from the water used to extinguish the fires can enter waterways. Texas is one of seven remaining states with tire stockpiles.

It is possible to break down tires and recycle them. Tires can be shredded into what is known as crumb rubber and made into new products, such as playground and athletic field surfaces and rubberized asphalt. The TCEQ reports that more than 15,000 tons of scrap tire rubber were used in roadway contracts around our state in fiscal year 2006. The Texas Department of Transportation utilizes crumb rubber mixed with asphalt for road surfaces; TxDOT also uses molded rubber parking stops and traffic sign bases, all made from scrap tires.

It might surprise you to know that many tires are "recycled" by being burned for fuel in cement kilns, paper and pulp mills and electric plants. Because of their high petroleum content, approximately 5 gallons of oil per tire according to Earth911.com, the energy produced by tire-derived fuel can be compared to crude oil or even coal. The TCEQ estimates that about one-third of Texas' scrap tires are used for tire-derived fuel.

Another third of the state's scrap tires are used in land reclamation projects. Shredded tire pieces are mixed with soil and used to fill in excavated land, such as that previously used for mining operations. Approximately one-sixth of Texas' scrap tires end up in landfills.

Tires must be disposed of responsibly. Sears accepts scrap tires for recycling for a $2 fee per tire, Walmart, accepts used tires if someone comes in to purchase a new tire and needs to get rid of the old one in the process, for which they charge $1.50 per tire. Otherwise, Walmart does not accept used tires. Residents can also take scrap tires to the landfill for a fee of $2.25 to $5.00 depending on the size of the tire. Rather than being disposed of in the landfill itself, the tires are collected and ultimately recycled by Houston-based Liberty Tire.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites readers to contact her at meridith.byrd@gmail.com.

*Corrected Nov. 9, 2010.

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