WASHINGTON—Recycling is having difficulty keeping up with increases in the number of used tires being created each year, a new study shows.
Just-released statistics from the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association show almost 76 percent of scrap tires were recycled in 2019, but that's down from 81.4 percent in 2017 and 87.9 percent in 2015.
The issue, according to USTMA, is not a decrease in recycling but a continued increase in the generation of scrap tires.
"There's sort of a hidden story here because scrap tire markets really didn't decline from 2017," said Sarah Amick, vice president of environment, health, safety and sustainability and senior counsel for the trade group.
"I think the challenge is that we continue to have more scrap tires generated each year that we need to find a home for," Amick said. "I think the big takeaway here is that scrap tire markets are not growing at the same pace as annual generation."
The USTMA, which looks at market conditions every two years, recently released its 2019 Scrap Tire Management Report.
"Every year, roughly 7 percent more scrap tires are generated than the previous year. And markets are remaining relatively consistent. But they are not growing to match the same rate as annual generation. I think that's the real challenge," Amick said.
Last year's percentage is well off the 96 percent recycling rate of 2013, when the trade group said tire recycling percentages peaked in the U.S.
"In spite of the decline on a percentage basis for scrap tires going into markets, we have not seen an increase in dumping. But rather, those tires which are being collected are being delivered to landfills where there is no market," said John Sheerin, USTMA's director of end-of-life tire programs.
"We have not seen a corresponding increase in illegal stockpiles. In fact, stockpiles continue to come down," he said.
With the number of scrap tires being recycled holding relatively steady in the face of growing generation, USTMA sees the situation as a market development story.
The trade group pointed to three areas where more scrap tires could be consumed. They include rubber modified asphalt, civil engineering projects, and molded and extruded parts.
While the USTMA sees the need to develop each of these markets, rubber modified asphalt holds the greatest potential to consume more scrap tires in the short term.
"Three decades after we successfully eliminated 94 percent of the over 1 billion scrap tires stockpiled around the country, this report reveals that efforts to find and develop new uses for scrap tires have stalled," USTMA CEO Anne Forristall Luke said in a statement. "We must take immediate steps to grow new and existing markets to recycle 100 percent of scrap tires. This not only protects our health and the environment—it drives innovation and jobs."
The report also found the nation's stockpile of used tires stood at about 56 million in 2016, with most being in a handful of states—Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
The trade group, in releasing the latest numbers, urged states to resist taking money from scrap tire funds for use in other areas. USTMA supports "reasonable fees on the sale of new tires to manage state programs."
The association also calls for new public and private investments to spur innovation; the research of lifecycle impacts of different end uses; and the sharing of state-based information on a national level.
"We see a lot of opportunity for scrap tire market growth. And we see a lot of opportunity to continue to work with our partners, the states, regulators, scrap tire value chain and researchers to grow scrap tire markets. It's really going to take a collective effort to grow markets," Amick said.