Reducing the amount of scrap rubber products can be just as important as finding markets for recycled items, said Brian E. James, president of the Rubber Association of Canada. Because technology doesn't yet exist to truly reverse vulcanization, it remains a challenge to handle the scrap rubber problem. ``We don't know how to unbake the loaf and put it back into its original form with its original strength,'' said James, addressing the RAC's Rubber Recycling Symposium and Exhibition.
The program was held March 3-4 in Toronto in connection with the group's annual meeting.
As most recycled rubber products still must be used in static items such as mats and mud flaps, rather than dynamic products like tires, belts and hoses, it makes sense to find ways to reduce the amount of scrap products, James said. In this regard the tire industry has made good strides, with product life basically tripling to about 60,000 miles a tire. But he also said consumer education could improve actual tire life by 30 percent.
The speakers on the symposium roster touched on many of the current ways to dent the scrap tire problem, including recycled goods, rubberized asphalt and tire-derived fuel.
There are two ways to approach making recycled rubber products, said Ted Pattenden, president of Toronto-based National Rubber Co. Inc.
One is to use the tire directly, taking advantage of the tire's durability. This method, however, uses low volumes of tires and isn't likely to ease the scrap tire problem, he said.
The second is to use technology to improve the properties of recycled rubber and increase the possible number of uses. ``Recycling isn't garbage, it's science,'' said Pattenden, whose company makes more than 700 different items and manufactures more than 50 million pounds of products using recycled rubber a year.
Recycling will be successful, he said, when the properties meet or exceed those of virgin rubber; when the processing is easier; and the total economics are in line with conventional processes.
Goodyear's Dave Morgan said a waste management system must cover three vital areas: collection, processes and markets.
``Any enterprise that lacks one of these three won't be successful,'' said Morgan, also chairman of the RAC's Task Force for Scrap Tire Disposal. Rather than find one major usage to erase the scrap tire problem, Morgan envisions someday there being ``75, 2-percent solutions'' that together might ease the situation.
With regards to the tires already in piles, the best bet probably is tire-derived fuel because crumb rubber producers generally want newly discarded tires, said Michael Blumenthal, executive director of the Scrap Tire Management Council.