Houston Recycling Scrap Tires

Every year the city of Houston collects and recycles 2,000 tons of scrap tires. Those tires are then turned into several products. The tire recycling effort is a growing trend across the country. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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In 1990, only 11 percent of scrap tires were recycled for other uses. Today, 87 percent of disposed tires end up in use for other markets. Here in Texas, the state requires all tires to be recycled. But City of Houston Director of Solid Waste Buck Buchanan says about 40 percent of the tires the city collects are illegally dumped in fields and ditches.

"And those are most often dumped by businesses that are, by law, supposed to be recycling them themselves but choose to avoid the expense of doing so."

So instead, the city picks up the tires and pays to have them recycled at an expense of $90 per ton. That might not sound like much, but multiply that by 2,000 tons and you have a recycling price tag of $180,000. According to a report by the Rubber Manufacturers Association, Texas was one of four states with the highest improvement since 2003 in disposing of scrap tires. The Association's Senior Technical Director Michael Blumenthal says the demand for recycled tire products is high.

"The interesting thing about Texas is they have developed enough market demand not only to use all the tires that are produced every year in the state, but actually have to import more tires into the state to meet market demand."

Eighteen million tires are manufactured in Texas every year, but demand is 126 percent of the supply. Those scrap tires are turned into things like tire-derived fuel, asphalt and ground rubber which can be made into playground surfaces and running tracks. But one area Texas still falls short in is the clean-up of tire piles.

"Tire piles, if they're totally left alone, are benign. I mean they really -- they won't degrade, they won't catch on fire by themselves, they will sit out there virtually forever. But there are two major environmental concerns associated with tire piles. One is that they tend to be the subject of arson. The other major problem associated with tire piles is mosquito infestation."

Blumenthal says the abatement of those tires will only happen if the state legislature earmarks funds to clean them up. State funding for tire recycling was abolished in 1997. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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