Just when they thought they had the problem licked .... Scrap tires, which had only an 11-percent recycling rate in 1990, had a 65-percent rate in 1998. That percentage dipped a bit recently because of a drop in tire-derived fuel use. However, the industry still thinks it will reach its goal of recycling all of the approximately 250 million scrap tires generated annually in the U.S. by 2005.
But now, the state of Connecticut has issued a ruling that—if it catches on—would set tire recycling back 30 years.
The issue concerns Oxford Tire Supply Inc., a defunct company that gathered scrap tires for a tires-to-energy facility in Sterling, Conn. The state's commissioner of revenue classified tires as ``special waste,'' meaning their collection was taxable under Connecticut law.
Last year, Oxford Tire Supply went after a refund of state taxes it had paid on the tires. With the help of two persuasive expert witnesses, they got a state court to rule that tires are a hazardous waste, and thus tax-exempt under Connecticut law.
All well and good for Oxford, and a potential disaster for everyone else involved in the scrap tire industry.
Scrap tire recyclers, whose profit margins are slim in the best of times, could see those evaporate if the move to classify tires as hazardous waste catches on. This would mean increased record keeping requirements, government audits and potential stiff fines, not to mention the possibility of retroactive Superfund liability.
That would be a tragedy. After decades of merely ignoring the buildup of scrap tires, the tire industry spent the last decade trying to deal with the issue, turning scrap tires into a viable commodity.
Of course, scrap tires can be hazardous, but only if handled irresponsibly, and laws already exist to deal with the bad actors. To stigmatize scrap tires as inherently hazardous would, in itself, be an irresponsible act.