WASHINGTON—John Sheerin has been director, end-of-life tires, for the Rubber Manufacturers Association for only about six months.
His involvement with the RMA's scrap tire management program, however, goes back much longer than that.
As environmental manager, then environmental director, for Bridgestone Retail Operations L.L.C., Sheerin had extensive experience aiding the RMA's scrap tire management efforts for at least 15 years before he officially became a member of the RMA staff on June 30, replacing the association's longtime scrap tire executive, Michael Blumenthal.
Sheerin's experience at Bridgestone Retail Operations included managing millions of scrap tires every year and working closely with other Bridgestone divisions in that effort, he said in a phone interview recently.
“I got to know a lot of people in the scrap tire industry in those years,” he said.
Sheerin believes the scrap tire industry as organized is well-positioned for continued success. “It's a maturing industry,” he said. “It has the second-best record of productive reuse of any recycling industry, behind auto batteries.”
During his 19-year tenure at Bridgestone Retail Operations, Sheerin was especially proud of his company's track record with grassroots municipal environmental groups, such as the Connecticut Watershed Council and Friends of the Chicago River.
During its annual cleanup drive, Friends of the Chicago River used to pull thousands of tires out of the river, according to Sheerin. “Now there are almost none,” he said.
Sheerin is particularly proud of Bridgestone's work with Chad Pregracke, CNN's 2013 “Hero of the Year” and founder of the East Moline, Ill.-based environmental group Living Lands and Waters. Living Lands and Waters is based close to Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions' headquarters in Muscatine, Iowa, and is dedicated to the ongoing cleanup of the Mississippi River.
“We got a lot of tires out of the Mississippi Watershed,” Sheerin said.
In its 2013 Scrap Tire Management Survey, the RMA showed that 95.9 percent of scrap tires generated in the U.S. reached end-use markets that year. A confluence of factors was responsible for that historically high recycling rate, according to Sheerin.
“First, there was the growth of the construction economy after the 2008 downturn,” he said. “Cement kilns have come back into operation, and tire-derived fuel has come back with them.
“Second, the scrap tire generation rate is lower,” he said. “People aren't driving as much, and their tires are lasting longer.”
Sheerin is optimistic the scrap tire industry can maintain and even increase the high 2013 utilization rate.
“That will depend on enforcement of laws against illegal dumping in a number of states, as well as more market development,” he said.
TDF is widely acknowledged to burn cleaner and offer more BTUs than coal, and it also has received some credit as a biomass product, according to Sheerin.
“In the long term, TDF will have a tough challenge in remaining part of the overall energy picture,” he said. “But TDF experts point out that TDF has always been a niche market and should continue to have that niche.”
Crumb rubber markets should continue to see growth, especially in molded/extruded products and crumb-rubber-modified asphalt, Sheerin said.
“Rubber-modified asphalt is an excellent product competing on its own merits, and we expect it will continue to grow,” he said.
The RMA is continuing the educational efforts on rubberized asphalt that began under Blumenthal. A seminar on crumb-rubber-modified asphalt will be held later this year and a full-fledged conference in 2016, he said.
Rubberized athletic turf and playground material also should continue to grow, despite recurring controversies over its alleged health effects. Sheerin expects further research into the safety of the product.
“Safety is the most important aspect of the product, because the product is all about safety,” he said. “We fully expect the new research will be consistent with the results to date—that the product presents no increased risk to health and safety.”
The passage of a bill in Colorado last year, designed to clean up the state's massive scrap tire stockpiles and ban sales of unsafe used tires, was a major legislative victory for the RMA, according to Sheerin.
However, the removal of stockpiles removes any major impetus for states to maintain strict scrap tire laws, he said.
“We've seen that some states lose interest in scrap tires when stockpiles are gone,” Sheerin said. “Market development is very important in maintaining high use rates, for markets come and go.”
States that merely maintain a fee on every new tire sold will see their scrap tire utilization rates fall, he said. But those that maintain and enforce regulations on processors and haulers, he said, will keep the stockpiles from coming back.
The scrap tire industry has every reason to be optimistic about the future, especially because of its own efforts, according to Sheerin.
“I like the way the industry keeps looking for higher-end markets and better uses for scrap tires,” he said. “This industry is all about market development.”