The pandemic has had far-reaching ramifications for all types of industries, including the rubber recycling industry.

As “work from home” initiatives continue to rule and people are driving less, automotive tires, as well as tires found on other vehicles, are being replaced less often. This, in turn, is having an impact on the tire recycling industry as a whole.

According to Sarah Amick, USTMA’s vice president for environment, health, safety, and sustainability, and senior counsel, tires remain one of the most recycled consumer products in the U.S.

USTMA’s 2019 Scrap Tire Management Summary Report shows that in 2019, 76 percent of annually generated scrap tires entered end-use markets.

“According to our 2019 report, the three largest markets for scrap tires are tire-derived fuel, civil engineering, and ground rubber markets,” Amick said. “USTMA saw significant growth in the use of scrap tires in rubber modified asphalt. USTMA’s next Scrap Tire Management Summary Report will be published in 2022.

USTMA members share the goal that all scrap tires enter sustainable end-use markets and are working to grow sustainable, circular markets for scrap tires.

“We see a lot of potential for the use of scrap tires in rubber modified asphalt, which can increase road durability, reduce noise and spray, as well as the use of scrap tires in stormwater infiltration galleries which can clean and filter stormwater,” Amick said.

According to Paul Hosage, chief business development officer and co-founder of Tread Connection, tires have been evolving in design and efficiency, and with that recycling programs for tires have adjusted, too.

At the very beginning of 2020, the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association was working to “intensify the development of new sustainable, circular end-use markets for scrap tires.”

“Their goal is to achieve a 100 percent end-use rate for scrap tires,” Hosage said.

So how has that goal fared in light of the global pandemic? Amick explained, that the scrap tire industry in the U.S. remains robust even as COVID-19 continues to alter the nature of travel throughout the U.S. “We anticipate that due to a decrease in tire shipments in 2020, that generation numbers for scrap tires will decrease in 2021 and 2022,” Amick said.

As with most industries, the pandemic has had far-reaching implications on the tire recycling industry. As Hosage explained, we saw early on in the pandemic that tire sales went down as stay-at-home orders went into effect, and presumably more people weren’t replacing their tires as they drove less.

“That said, the tire recycling industry is partnered directly with the facilities that do the recycling,” Hosage said. “These will have been affected on a state-by-state basis per each state’s COVID-19 responses. We’ve found that the majority of tire recycling locations stayed open and available during this pandemic, but we can’t speak to every location in the country.”

Currently, the majority of the conversations being held around tire recycling are centered around finding and developing green initiatives. Hosage is not currently aware of new regulations which would dampen the ability to recycle tires. In fact, Hosage is finding the opposite.

USTMA does support reasonable fees on the sale of new tires to fund state scrap tire programs and has encouraged states to utilize these funds for scrap tire purposes.

“However, we did see a few states transfer money from these funds for general fund purposes, which we oppose, and we plan to continue to educate states about the importance of maintaining these funds,” Amick said.

“The USTMA is prioritizing its research into finding new ways to make old tires into valuable and reusable materials,” Hosage said. “We’re personally excited at the future of tire recycling. The focus on ‘green’ and sustainability is important to us and obviously the world.”

Amick said USTMA is currently seeing an urgent need to grow scrap tire markets. In fact, USTMA’s 2019 Scrap Tire Management Summary Report showed a decrease of 20 percentage points for scrap tires going to end-use markets from its 2013 report.

“To grow markets, we see a need for increased partnerships between all groups in our value chain and welcome the opportunity to work with states, researchers, and others to grow scrap tire markets,” Amick said.

In December 2020, USTMA, The Ray, and the University of Missouri launched an effort to create a “state of the knowledge” review of all research related to rubber-modified asphalt. The report, expected to be complete in Q1 2021, will highlight the benefits and impacts of using rubber-modified asphalt and identify existing performance environmental research and data gaps.

As Amick explained, the 2019 Scrap Tire Management Summary Report showed that the use of rubber-modified asphalt grew by 50 percent in 2019. Rubber-modified asphalt now consumes over four percent of annually generated scrap tires.

“We see a lot of promise for the use of scrap tires in rubber-modified asphalt as asphalt is one of the most recycled materials and can be utilized repeatedly,” Amick said.

Many states have specifications for the types of pavement that can be utilized in a given state. But USTMA has seen that several state specifications do not include the use of rubber-modified asphalt and they have encouraged states to open their specifications to include its use.

“We are encouraged by the growing number of states that include the use of rubber-modified asphalt in their state specs, including California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and South Carolina among others, depending upon the specific pavement type,” Amick said.

As Hosage pointed out, earlier in 2020 we also saw Green Distillation Technologies, an Australian recycling plant, sign a deal to build its first tire recycling plant here in the U.S., which is very exciting news for the industry.

“Of course, COVID-19 interrupted a lot of development, but we’re looking forward to the picking-back-up of this type of development as the vaccine comes into effect,” Hosage said. “Our biggest concern about COVID-19’s effects on the tire recycling marketplace is that people will continue to be nervous to go out to the recycling centers and ensure that the tires are going to the right location and not just the dump. But the urge and need for greener ways to deal with waste are very present, and we’re thinking that tire recycling will continue forward strongly.”

The Biden administration has announced a focus on developing sustainable infrastructure in the years ahead. As such, USTMA continues to educate policymakers about the role that scrap tires have in developing sustainable infrastructure solutions –such as the use of scrap tires in rubber-modified asphalt and tire-derived aggregate (larger shreds of scrap tires) in stormwater infiltration galleries.

“The Biden administration has also announced that action to reduce carbon emissions is a priority,” Amick said. “USTMA will continue to educate policymakers of the importance of considering the circular economy and waste disposal in creating actions to mitigate climate change.”

As an example, several USTMA members have invested in operations to produce recycled carbon black, which advances the circular economy by extracting carbon black from scrap tires and utilizing recycled carbon black in manufacturing new tires. Additionally, roughly 37 percent of all annually generated scrap tires are used as fuel in cement kilns, pulp and paper mills, and electric utilities.

“We encourage policymakers to consider waste disposal in future climate policy and to allow for fuel flexibility to prevent waste disposal implications,” Amick said. “The EPA recognizes the biogenic or natural rubber fraction in tires as carbon neutral and we anticipate in the years ahead, that with the increased use of renewable and recycled materials in tires that the biogenic fraction in tires will increase; decreasing the GHG emissions associated with the use of scrap tires as fuel.”

Article Source: American Recycler

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