WASHINGTON—Tire recycling continued as a major industry topic in 2008, with product innovations and company buyouts competing for attention with environmental controversies.
Some of the biggest recycling news of the year came out of Canada in August. After 15 years with no scrap tire laws in place, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment directed Waste Diversion Ontario, the non-profit provincial corporation charged with creating and administering recycling programs, to create a plan for recycling the 12 million scrap tires generated annually in Ontario.
The program should place a priority on higher-end uses for tires wherever possible and shun landfill disposal or incineration except when other uses are unavailable, said Ontario Environment Minister John Gerretsen.
The Rubber Association of Canada pledged to work with the ministry to make the program work. Many Ontario tire dealers—who charged customers $2 to $5 each on their own to handle used tires and sold many of those tires to tire-derived fuel (TDF) users in the U.S.—reportedly disliked the proposal, holding that the non-government system already works well.
Other tire recycling news included:
* Environmental secretaries from 10 U.S. and Mexican border states signed in August the Tire Initiative Letter of Understanding, in which they pledged to implement scrap tire pile prevention procedures and eliminate existing tire piles.
* Two major tire piles—the Kirby's Tire Recycling Inc. site near Sycamore, Ohio, and the Starr pile near Williamsport, Pa.—were declared clean by their respective state environmental agencies.
The Kirby site, which at its peak had an estimated 25 million tires, took nine years and $32 million to clean up, including complications from a devastating fire in August 1999. The Starr site, which once had 6 million tires, took 21 years and an undisclosed amount of money to clean up.
* The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to sock several tire dealers in Wisconsin and northern Illinois for tire fire cleanup costs. The EPA sent letters in July to 37 entities, including tire dealers, other businesses and even the state of Wisconsin. The agency claimed they were responsible under Superfund laws to repay the EPA the $1.04 million it spent to clean up contaminated water after a 2005 tire pile fire in Watertown, Wis. All those entities, the EPA said, were responsible because they contributed tires to the site.
* Jerold Brannon, owner of Brannon Tire in Stockton, Calif., vowed in April to fight citations from the San Joaquin district attorney's office. The D.A. claimed Brannon had not followed state regulations regarding scrap tire storage and proposed more than $300,000 in fines.
* Companies announced plans to beef up their recycling efforts. Michelin North America Inc., for example, collaborated with the MTC Federal Credit Union to open a community recycling center in Ardmore, Okla., near Michelin's tire plant there.
* RDH Reclaim Co., a unit of RDH Tire & Retread Co., in April opened a 50,000-sq.-ft. rubber recycling plant in Cleveland, N.C.
* In September, Liberty Tire Services of Ohio L.L.C. bought the Iowa and Minnesota tire processing operations of GreenMan Technologies Inc. for more than $26 million. GreenMan decided to sell that business to concentrate on its other divisions—Welch Products Inc. in Des Moines, Iowa, and GreenMan Renewable Fuel and Alternative Energy Inc.
* At least one tire recycling firm fell apart amid charges of fraud. In August, a Detroit federal appeals court judge froze the assets of Encore Associated Leasing L.L.C. and of Encore President Paul Merklinger and his son Brian. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had filed suit in the Detroit court, charging Paul Merklinger with swindling five investors out of at least $7.2 million by promising nonexistent profits through the leasing and operation of bogus tire shredding technology.
* Allegations flew regarding the safety of certain tire recycling technologies. Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI), a Connecticut-based, non-profit environmental policy analysis group, issued a study calling for a moratorium on the use of recycled rubber playground and athletic turf. EHHI based its conclusion on limited testing that showed low levels of metals and organic compounds can leach from tire rubber.
The report caused several state legislatures to consider enacting such a moratorium or placing other limits on recycled rubber turf.
In response to EHHI, the Rubber Manufacturers Association commissioned its own study. That report, issued in August, concluded that playgrounds and athletic fields made from recycled tires don't present any harm to humans or the environment.
* Anne Evans, founder of EER Ltd. and TYRES 2000 Ltd., was named district director for Connecticut of the U.S. Commerce Department's Commercial Service, which assists firms that want to export their products.