Environmentalists are absolutely correct when they say alternative uses for scrap tires are better than burning them as fuel. Their support of a set of new regulations that could end most tire-derived fuel, however, is impractical.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is well along in the process of reclassifying TDF as solid waste. Such regulations mean scrap tires would have to be reprocessed to be used as fuel.
The environmentalist lobby's belief that discouraging incineration of tires for fuel will encourage clean alternatives makes sense in a perfect world. Not in the real world, however.
Since the creation of the tire industry until the 1990s, the typical way to dispose of a worn-out tire was to “throw it on the pile.” Often tires missed the pile and ended up in streams, fields or on the side of a rural road. Stockpiled tires bred mosquitoes and fires, and used tires in the woods were just disgusting.
Except for retreading and the World War II effort to recover rubber, little was done to find ways to utilize scrap tires. It couldn't be done economically, so the tire industry ignored the problem as the nation's scrap tire stockpile grew to a billion.
A series of spectacular tire dump fires and the growth of the environmental movement bullied the industry into getting serious about finding uses for scrap tires. In total, the business has done a good job: The stockpile is down to 100 million, and a variety of methods to utilize worn-out tires were developed.
TDF, still the biggest consumer of used tires, really is a temporary solution until the best ideas for recycling tires become cost-effective. Today it eats up about half, or 150 million, of the scrap tires generated annually.
Technological advances can be force-fed: Witness all the inventions developed during wars. But the vision of environmentalists that banning most tire-burning will spawn the growth of alternative solutions is a “pie-in-the-sky” view.
A regulation that kills off tire burning for fuel won't jump-start an era of innovation: companies and individuals have been on the case for 20 years. It will spawn the rebirth of huge, mosquito-plagued tire piles, making the cure worse than the disease.