The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the object of scorn for many, hope for others. Whatever your opinion, the agency's decision on tire-derived fuel, is clear to all: The EPA got it right.
The EPA has been chewing on the idea of redefining whole and shredded scrap tires as solid waste. That meant any facility that uses worn out tires as fuel would be considered solid waste incinerators under the Clear Air Act—and subject to so much regulation TDF use would end.
The agency's aim in redefining TDF and other nontraditional, nonhazardous fuels was understandable, to reduce emissions of mercury and other pollutants from industrial, commercial and institutional boilers and solid waste incinerators. Only someone with a blatant disregard for humanity and the environment would be against that.
But the proposal the EPA proffered was off base. The tire and cement industries—the latter being a big user of TDF—and state solid waste management officials lined up against the plan. The additional regulatory cost of maintaining solid waste incinerators over industrial boilers would price TDF out of the market.
That would be an environmental disaster, a return to the bad old days when scrap tires ended up in huge landfills, ditches on the sides of the road, and in rivers and streams.
The tire industry and states saw the light 20 years or so ago. They have succeeded in reducing the scrap tire pile and today find a good end use for 87 percent of the scrap tires produced annually. TDF accounts for the final destination for more than half of those tires.
In a perfect world, all scrap tires would be reprocessed, and the components reused. There has been great strides made in that direction, but that goal hasn't been met yet. Until it is, the TDF approach is practical—not the best, especially if that cement kiln is in your back yard—but better than the alternative.