HomeNewsTyreA tire recycler says they'll fight blight in Baton Rouge. Competitors are...

A tire recycler says they’ll fight blight in Baton Rouge. Competitors are pushing back

More than three years ago, businesswoman Diane Baum stepped into a then-contentious debate over the cost of a proposed Baton Rouge city-parish tire shredder and offered to run it free of charge, after upfront costs, just for the right to the waste tires.

Though the Metro Council agreed to let Baum do the job, fighting over the location of the shredder led the city parish to waffle and, ultimately, lose a $605,000 federal grant. Baum pulled out and political finger-pointing followed in the 2020 city-parish elections.

Since then, Baum and her business partners have gone out on their own. They say they are poised to open a tire shredding operation at the old Gulf States Fabricators complex on Scenic Highway in the northwestern corner of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Unlike the state’s existing recyclers, Baum says, her business model will push her to seek discarded waste tires for which she has no hope of gaining a state subsidy so she can produce the minced tire bits known as crumb rubber for her customers, as well as her own products.

“My incentive is to grab as much tires (as possible). I don’t care if they are on the side of the road or anywhere. I’m going to find a way to get those tires,” she said during a recent interview at her proposed plant.

“I don’t make money until I make it into an end product,” she added.

Her company, Baum Industries, has been waiting on a key state solid waste permit for nearly two years. The state Department of Environmental Quality is expected to hold a permit hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday at its headquarters in the Galvez building.

Baum Industries is facing opposition from the four other tire recyclers in Louisiana, who contend her company would destabilize the tire recycling marketplace because there aren’t enough waste tires to go around.

The recyclers, through their trade group, Tire Recyclers of Louisiana Inc., want the state to conduct a state-required study of the recycled tire market first. The group contends DEQ’s own numbers of about 5 million new and used tires being bought every year support the recyclers’ contentions.

“As such, it is abundantly clear that there is no need, demand, or justification for permitting an additional processing facility,” the group wrote to DEQ in August 2021.

For more than three decades, Louisiana has subsidized a handful of tire recycling companies with millions of dollars per year to shred and find ways to properly dispose of waste tires.

The $13 million-per-year recycling program is supported through fees people are supposed to pay when they buy tires, but recyclers can have a hard time finding ways to dispose of the tires. In recent years, they have often ended up burying them in the ground for bank stabilization and other projects, state regulators have said.

Even with the program, waste tires continue to be dumped in neighborhoods, near highways, or in remote locations and remain a chronic problem that Chuck Carr Brown, DEQ’s secretary, called in February “one of the top environmental issues in Louisiana.”

DEQ officials blame the problem on rogue tire dealers who operate outside the state’s manifest system, under which recyclers can claim reimbursement, and on dumping possibly from out of state.

But, Baum contends the DEQ system is an out-of-date, paper-tracking operation that’s missing plenty of waste tires, doesn’t have enough enforcement, and isn’t incentivizing true recycling of tires but is “green-washing” land disposal.

Baum argues her plant will upset the status quo for the recyclers and so is encountering resistance.

She says she has standing agreements for crumb rubber or chips from a tire recycling plant in Natchez, Mississippi, and an out-of-state road materials company. She also says she is planning to convert some of the waste tires into her own stormwater control devices, for which she is seeking patents.

Baum and her partners have also created a nonprofit, Tire Recovery Foundation, to receive government grant money to collect so-called “rogue” tires from dump sites that can’t earn companies state reimbursement dollars.

Kip Vincent, the owner of Colt Inc., which has tire recycling operations in New Orleans, and Scott, said the markets for tire recycling in Louisiana have dwindled from seven to one in his 38 years in the industry.

Vincent said that while at one time 70% of tires were used for fuel, most are now used for tire-derived aggregate.

Underground projects use the aggregate for bulkheads and embankments and have been spread out across the state, records show, including a small one in a neighborhood in Baton Rouge, at an undisclosed location in Livingston Parish, and larger ones along Interstate 49 in central Louisiana and in a former landfill in Scott.

The Scott project caught fire underground, smoldered for four years, and periodically emitted noxious gases into a nearby neighborhood until local firefighters put it out in late 2021 and early 2022. The firefighting effort cost Lafayette Consolidated Government at least $1.2 million.

Colt did deliver the material to that project, Vincent said, but its construction was overseen by the landowner. DEQ has since changed state construction requirements and added dirt layering to reduce the risk of fire, agency officials have said.

The market in Louisiana to use tires in road asphalt has also dwindled due to cost concerns and politics amid competition from oil refiners, Vincent contended.

“I would love that market. It could use every tire in Louisiana,” he said.

Diane Baum declined to name the out-of-state road materials company that will be taking her tire material, citing confidentiality requirements.

She did provide a February 2021 interest letter from the tire plant, Delta Energy Group in Natchez, in which tire maker Bridgestone has a majority stake, according to industry reports.

Delta Energy told Baum then it was looking for 21 million pounds of tire chips in 2021.

The plant uses waste tires to make a form of carbon used in new tires. It’s not clear what the plant’s air emissions profile is, but DEQ officials have noted other methods that break down tires into their constituent elements can have potent emissions.

Delta Energy officials didn’t return requests for comment by email. A public information request with Mississippi’s air regulator is pending.

Baum Industries is seeking authority from DEQ to shred up to 5,400 tires per day, permit documents say.

Part of the regulatory scrutiny Baum has faced has revolved around her initial failure to indicate where and how many tires will be stored on her 10-acre site at 100 Springfield Road.

Unlike other recyclers, which regularly store tens of thousands of tires at any time, Baum says she doesn’t plan to store tires besides what is delivered each day.

Her proposed tire shredding operation will be inside a large, L-shaped warehouse, Baum said. Her business partner, Herb Rogers, says more than $1 million will be invested in the old building to seal it up.

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