Just what is green to the rubber industry?
As the world grapples with climate change and a host of other environmental issues, the rubber sector is intimately involved in being part of the solution. A chemical-based, heavy manufacturing industry, the rubber business for much of its history was part of the problem.
Leaving a soiled footprint on the world's environment no longer is the norm for manufacturers of rubber goods, and the suppliers that provide the chemicals and materials needed to produce them. Change came over time, and in some ways predated the environmental movement that began in earnest in the 1960s.
The rubber business was built on discovery, one invention at a time. What you see today is a culmination of years of innovation. So, too, is the greening of the business-many different parts that add to the whole.
Becoming green for many companies means adopting ISO 4001 environmental management standards. Companies throughout the industry-from big tire makers like Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd., Bridgestone Corp. and Goodyear, to non-tire manufacturers like Lauren Manufacturing Co., to suppliers ranging from Columbian Chemicals Co. to Lehigh Technologies Inc.-now abide by the standard that seeks to minimize how a company's operations negatively affect the environment and comply with laws and regulations.
A century of being green
Retreading is green and always has been. As many as 18 million tires are retreaded annually, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, tires kept out of the scrap tire heap. As Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau, put it, ``Tire retreading has been `green' for nearly 100 years before the word became fashionable.''
Tires that are scrapped, nearly 300 million a year, no longer end up in huge piles, home to mosquitoes and fuel for enormous tire fires. Recycling of newly generated scrap tires hit the 87-percent level in 2005, according to the most recent figures.
As many as 188 million tires are burned as fuel, most often in cement kilns. TDF remains a controversial end-use for scrap tires, opposed by those who feel it's a waste of materials, as well as communities and individuals who take the ``not in my backyard'' stance.
Shredded scrap tires have found a home in civil engineering projects, particularly landfill, septic system and road construction projects. Ground rubber is used in playgrounds, running tracks and to hold soil together, and advancements have turned it into fine powder with growing use in rubber goods manufacturing.
The recovery of other materials from scrap tires also is advancing. Delta Energy, for example, is getting ready to open a second plant that snatches carbon black and oil and vapors for fuel from used tires.
Scrap recovery in the rubber manufacturing process continues to grow. Specialty Elastomer Recovery Inc., for one, makes a living at this, taking high-end scrap from rubber processors that would have been waste and grinding it into a powder that has the same attributes as the virgin material.
The use of such material is growing, according to Julie Johnson, president and founder of SERI. ``I have noticed an increased enthusiasm to eliminate the flow of waste elastomers within manufacturing,'' she said.
Big green, little green
What is green? It's as big as Sid Richardson Carbon Co. switching from just incinerating waste gas byproduct to capturing and converting the heat into electricity. It's as invisible as Kenrich Petrochemical's organometallic couplings, which make compositions stronger and longer-lasting, allowing the use of more filler rather than oil-derived fuel. And it is as small, yet important, as King Industries Inc. replacing 500 lights with energy-saving bulbs, and adding motion sensors to turn them off when not needed.
New tire plants today look like supermarkets. Even the smallest rubber shop has to follow much-tougher environmental standards than in the past.
The world has become serious about the environment. So has the rubber industry.