CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Bill Meyer has a stunt in mind. In four years, the director of North Carolina's waste management division wants to saunter into a state legislative session with a tire around his neck and declare, ``Here's what your tax dollars can do.''
North Carolina isn't subsidizing tire production. But the state's environmental department has granted Continental General Tire Inc. $1.2 million to research and develop recycled rubber content tires.
If the business-government venture proves successful, Meyer hopes to show off a General-brand tire with a recycled rubber content of 25 percent to the legislators.
The partnership began in July 1998 and has managed to recycle 500,000 scrap tires to date, according to Conti General. The state of North Carolina is paying the Charlotte-based tire manufacturer $300,000 annually for four years to expand its recycled material usage.
``One year after applying the grant, we're recycling at a rate that keeps 12 million pounds of used tires out of landfills,'' said Ed Morant, Conti General director of materials/radial light truck development, tire technology.
``Our goal for the next 12 months is to increase that rate of usage,'' the executive said.
Currently, Conti General's radial passenger tires contain up to 6 percent recycled rubber material, while light truck tires contain as much as 4 percent, the company said.
The tire maker has used all of the crumb rubber from those 500,000 scrap tires to make new passenger, light truck and off-the-road tires, Morant said. He can't say how many new tires were created.
Some of the crumb came from recyclers in Pennsylvania and Mississippi because there is no operational tire recycling plant in North Carolina, he said.
Approximately 25 to 50 percent of the 6 million to 7 million scrap tires North Carolina generates go to landfills, Meyer said. The rest are used for civil engineering applications such as river embankment projects.
The state has cleaned up most of its tire dumps with fees collected on new-tire sales, but still wants to prohibit landfilling tires, he said.
To fulfill its goals, the state has contracted with German-owned Conti General to try to stimulate markets for scrap tires.
North Carolina initiated the venture by sending letters to all tire makers with facilities in the state—Conti General, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. and Goodyear—seeking proposals for the grant, which would be earmarked for the research and development of recycled content tires, Meyer said.
Only Conti General responded, according to the state waste management official.
Conti General began researching recycled rubber content tires several years ago. At that time, Ford Motor Co. asked its suppliers to explore using recycled materials in their manufacturing processes.
Some of Conti General's larger competitors also have experimented with recycled content tires.
Michelin North America Inc. supplies Ford Windstars with original equipment tires made with recycled tire rubber, said Red Hermann, Michelin director of government affairs. The passenger tires contain a recycled rubber content of 5 percent, though Michelin has tested tires with a recycled content of 10 percent and obtained positive results, he said.
Michelin has no immediate plans to expand its recycled content tire research beyond the Windstar OE fitment. Nor does it plan to increase the recycled content in its tires to 10 percent, Hermann said.
Bridgestone/Firestone has used recycled rubber in agricultural tires since the early 1980s, a spokeswoman said. Recently the company began supplying Ford with OE recycled rubber content tires.
The tire maker declined to comment on the percentage of recycled rubber used in its tires, but said it's continuing to research ways to use recycled rubber in new tire manufacturing.
Goodyear officials couldn't be reached for comment, but the firm recently patented a devulcanization process it claims can recover up to 80 percent of the rubber in a used tire.
North Carolina has set a goal of up to 25 percent recycled rubber content in new tires. However, a leser amount may be enough, according to Meyer.
``If we can get as much as 10 to 15 percent crumb in a tire, with the amount of tires that are manufactured by (Conti General), that will take care of our tire problem'' in the state, he said.
Conti General still is testing the possibility of a higher crumb rubber content and how it would affect tire durability and performance, Morant said. ``It's one of those things where there's a limit, but you have to find that limit,'' he said.
The tire maker may not achieve the 25-percent mark without using devulcanized material with the crumb rubber, Morant said.