Where did all the scrap tires go?
For years everyone concerned with scrap tires-government agencies, members of Congress, trade associations, tire companies-assumed at least 3 billion scrap tires existed in the U.S.
Now the Scrap Tire Management Council's 1994 study of scrap tires estimates there are about 709 million used tires stockpiled in the U.S.-rounded off to ``under 800 million.''
The difference between 3 billion and 709 million used tires might seem unimportant: It's still a lot of tires, and no one claims the stockpile actually is declining, despite advances in finding markets and methods to dispose of used tires. Indeed, more than 250 million tires are discarded yearly in the U.S., and it will be decades, at best, before the stockpile is depleted.
But the numbers are important. There's credibility at stake.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency apparently came up with the 3 billion tire figure back in the late 1980s. How, no one seems to know.
That huge-and obviously inaccurate-number had much to do with stirring up interest in the problem. Coupled with a series of dramatic tire dump fires, scrap tires became a public issue that legislators latched onto.
Good certainly sprung from this new awareness, such as major efforts to improve tire disposal and recycling. Indeed, the creation in 1990 of the STMC, an arm of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, is an outgrowth of this movement. Until then tire manufacturers had no impetus to form an organization dedicated to solving the problem.
But would there have been a call to action if people knew the scrap tire pile in the U.S. was, say, 500 million units back in 1990? Unintentional or not, the EPA figure misled the public.
Unfortunately, that inaccurate 3 billion figure could raise questions about the STMC's work. The fact is, the lower the amount of units in the nation's scrap tire stockpile, the better it is for the STMC's sponsors, the tire manufacturers: Politicians don't seek legislative solutions for problems that are being fixed.
The STMC, to its credit, seems to have done a thorough, unbiased job of fact-finding. The report is extensive, and the extrapolations where data wasn't available are logical.
The STMC study shows that progress is being made, although quite clearly the scrap tire problem has not been solved.
And, probably, never was quite as bad as everyone thought.