The relationship between the amount of material reclaimed from scrap tires and the scrap tires that are generated annually has become somewhat of a good news-bad news refrain.
The U.S. continues to perform well, year over year, in the amount of scrap tires that it is recycling. In 2019, the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association reported in its biennial U.S. Scrap Tire Management Report that 3.37 million tons of recycled material—tire-derived fuel, ground rubber and civil engineering applications top the list—was obtained from 4.46 million tons of scrap tires. That represented about a 76 percent reclamation rate of recycled product finding an end-use market.
The problem is that percentage is dropping, having reached a high point of 96 percent in 2013, as scrap tire generation (263.4 million tires in 2019, less the used tires culled) continues to outrun recycled material.
"I think it's important to remember that the most material ever was recycled in 2019," said Sarah Amick, vice president for the Environment, Health Safety and Sustainability Committee for the USTMA. "The challenges we see year over year have continued to increase. Vehicle miles traveled went up so there was an increase in scrap tires.
"We are just not seeing the same rate of growth. The recycled product is not decreasing—it is just not growing at the same rate as annual generation."
Interesting to note in the 2021 report will be whether scrap tire generation drops off during peak pandemic time periods.
While circularity refers to the completion of the lifecycle of a rubber compound, such as recycled and reused carbon black, it also refers to the closing of that percentage gap—where the goal is to recycle 100 percent of all scrap tires that are generated.
"The goals are to lower natural resource consumption and CO2 emissions," said John Sheerin, director of end-of-life tire programs for the USTMA. "This is pushing innovative approaches. One example is increased use of carbon black derived from scrap tires—this is a great example of circular use."