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You’ve driven thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of miles in your car. You use it for everything from errands to vacations. But did you ever stop to think what keeps the car rolling? Quite literally, it’s the tires. Tires, just like any product, get worn down after a lot of use, and must be replaced.
This is where we run into problems. 75% of the tire isn’t actual material; it is simply space. As a result, tires quickly fill up landfills, making them one of the most problematic sources of waste that we produce. Once in the landfill, methane gas can become trapped in the tire spaces, and “bubble” to the surface. This may cause breakages through the landfill liners that keep contaminants from entering local water sources.
This is bad for the environment and for our general health. Luckily, there is simple solution: recycling.
What you need to know
Our tires can run for longer than we give them credit. There are some simple ways of making a tire last longer.
First off, try not to be flashy. It sounds simple, but it is proven that if you break slower, you burn through your tires slower. Not to mention, braking slower saves your brakes from burning out faster. With that in mind, next time you see a red light try and brake 30 meters out instead of 3.
However, beyond conservation, there are ways of recycling your tires that can help the overwhelming boom in landfill space taken up by our rubbery travel buddies.
For starters, try and donate your tires to a facility that processes the tire into something useful. There are booming industries that take tires and turn them into anything from turf fields to cell phone cases. It’s as easy as calling one of these companies and dropping your tires off. They want your old tires!
Secondly, you can recycle your tires on your own. A tire can be used for many things around the house if you are creative. One of the simplest forms of recycling is to turn your old tire into a planting bed, however, other objects such as shoes, sandals, and wallets are easily made at home.
For those of you a bit more technologically inclined, see if you can donate your tires to a microbial rubber consumption laboratory. There is ongoing research done around the country to genetically modify microorganisms to eat and metabolize our old tires. See if you can get involved!
And finally, if you could care less about your old worn out tires, at least make sure you dispose of them to a plant that shreds the rubber. Otherwise, our world is going to be full of old tires instead of forest and trees.
An average ttire weighs about 25 pounds for a passenger car (and closer to 100 pounds for a truck tire). Without even going into landfill volumes, consider all of the energy that can be conserved by NOT transporting these incredibly heavy things to the landfill. You would be amazed at how much the savings are due to reducing the old tire transportation alone.
Volumetrically, a given tire is 15000 cc. This includes all types of tires ranging from passenger to truck to motorcycle. If you consider that the U.S. in a given year produces close to 300 million scrap tires, saving even half of them from entering a landfill at full volume would save 22 billion cubic centimeters of space. That’s close to 1/4th of the Empire State Building worth of tires.
NOTE: It should be noted that the United States is already doing a (relatively) good job of recycling and reusing our tires. To learn more, check out the EPA’s website on this issue: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/tires/rel_links.htm
However, there is still a large amount we can still reduce by adopting more widespread tire recycling practices.
Many people do not even bother to dump their tires into a landfill, instead leaving them on the side of the road. This is especially dangerous, as heavy metals and pollutants from the tires can leach into the soil. Tire fires can also occur easily. These fires can burn for prolonged periods and result in serious pollution of the area.
Recycling tires has clear applications for preserving our health and the environment, but it is also good for the economy. Old tires can be used in the development of new products, creating new jobs.
Think about it
It is not difficult to take care of your tires, performing maintenance and rotation. When the tires are worn out, talk to your manufacturer to make sure that they will be properly recycled.
Most people wouldn’t just throw a can out their window and leave it on the side of the road. Just because your tires roll over the road doesn’t mean that you can leave them there either.
by Tamara Perreault and Keith Heyde
Tamara and Keith are of Bowdoin College and Columbia University respectively. The two started a biotech and environmental consulting start up Abstract Algae over the summer of 2011. For more information, please contact Keith or Tamara at firstname.lastname@example.org.