There was a time when anyone with some entrepreneurial spirit could recycle tires for money. All they needed was a pick-up truck and a couple of retreading shops willing to buy their product.
Then it was just a matter of touring gas stations and tire dealerships to pick up the old tires, probably with your faithful pooch at your side and Hotel California blasting on the radio.
That was 1977.
Today, most states (all but Alaska and Delaware) have laws and regulations that deal with the hauling, storing and handling of scrap tires.
So, is it still possible to recycle tires for money? In short, yes. However, there’s some paperwork involved these days.
Here’s some background on tire recycling and some information to get you started as a certified hauler.
Why recycle tires?
According to the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), over 290 million scrap tires were generated in the US in 2003 (the latest numbers they have). That’s a lot of waste.
Luckily, due to some creative people and some financial incentives from government, about 80% of scrap tires now have a market.
This is the EPA’s breakdown of where used tires go (source):
- 130 million (44.7%) are used as fuel
- 56 million (19.4%) are recycled or used in civil engineering projects (e.g. embankment fills)
- 18 million (7.8%) are converted into ground rubber and recycled into products (e.g. rubber floors, playground covers)
- 16.5 million (5.7%) are retreaded
- 12 million (4.3%) are converted into ground rubber and used in rubber-modified asphalt
- 9 million (3.1%) are exported (usually to be retreaded in places like Mexico)
- 6.5 million (2.0 %) are recycled into cut/stamped/punched products
- 3 million (1.7%) are used in agricultural and miscellaneous uses
The sheer quantity of waste is incentive enough to find ways to recycle tires.
If left, this waste builds up and used tire stockpiles are physical and health hazards to humans and the environment. Many states have been aggressive in their attempts to clean up these stockpiles.
Many states have even banned tires from landfills. Thirty-eight states ban whole tires, while eleven states ban all tires from landfills. So, there is clearly a need to find alternative uses for this waste product.
Where is the market for used tires?
Well, as you can see from the EPA’s list above, the number one use for used tires is for fuel, due to their high oil content. However, this might not be the most creative use of this product.
They are used in civil engineering projects such as drainage aggregate, subgrade insulation for roads, landfills, or embankment fills. The tires are usually roughly shredded for these types of projects.
Many tire recycling facilities have purchased crumbers or chippers or even equipment to turn the rubber into a fine powder. Depending on the size of the crumbs, this recycled rubber is then incorporated into highway surfaces, paint, rubber flooring, rubber mulch, playground surfaces and even new tires.
One of the materials in tires is carbon black, which is created through the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products. It is used as a pigment and reinforcing product in tires and it is extremely valuable. Considerable research is going into finding effective ways of recovering this material from recycled tires.
Retreading shops also take in old tire casings that are in excellent condition. It is usually truck tires that are more popular in the retreading world. However, Canada and the US sell used passenger tire casings to places like China and Mexico for retreading.
How do I get involved in recycling tires?
Each state is responsible for making its own laws and regulations regarding the handling and hauling of recycled tires.
Probably the easiest job is hauling used tires as it doesn’t necessarily mean a complete career transition and can be done on the side of a regular job. You can take to the road in your truck (or hybrid car), maybe still with Hotel California blasting (or not), and collect used tires from retailers, but it’s a bit more of a commitment financially and in terms of paperwork.
In California, for instance, anyone hauling 10 or more used tires needs to hold a valid waste tire hauler registration and maintain a comprehensive trip log. About 6,000 waste tire hauling vehicles have registered annually in California since 1995. You need to send in an application and purchase a surety bond for $10,000. More information can be found on the California government website.
Most states have similar laws that essentially require you to register with the state government as a hauler, keep a detailed manifest of your transport activities, and show your financial responsibility, usually through a secure bond.
To find out more about the regulations in your state, the EPA has a quick reference guide that is searchable by state.
Before you make the commitment to start hauling, contact some retreading shops (look up a retreading shop near you here) or the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau as they might have some general information to help you get started. For instance, do the casings you collect need to be inspected first or do they do the inspection? Will they get rid of casings that don’t meet the grade or will you have to dispose of them? What is the average rate for different tire classifications?
There are also online forums such as The Global Recycling Network and The Recycler’s Exchange, that have a section specifically for used tires where people list tire casings for sale or wanted. The average going price for truck tires on here seems to be $25-$40 per casing.
There are opportunities to recycle tires for money, but keep in mind that it is a highly regulated process. This article doesn’t even attempt to cover the details of setting up a recycling business and producing rubber crumbs or shred and only gives a very brief overview of the steps involved in setting up a hauling business. I can’t stress enough that the first step, if you are considering this as a business, is to contact your state department responsible for waste – contact details are provided for each state on the EPA’s quick reference guide. Talk to them first about what is required to become a licensed tire recycling, storage, or hauling facility. The following video is a good overview of the scrap tire issue in Missouri.