More than 300 million tires are discarded annually in the United States.

Michael Blumenthal, a vice president of the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), not only monitors the amount of tires that are discarded and how they are recycled and reused, but also has a role in helping to find alternative uses for the rubber and bring together the various stakeholders to find effective solutions.

Are steps being taken to tackle the issue of the stockpiled tires that were discarded in the past?

Blumenthal: The last time that we did a market survey, which was in 2007, we found that nearly 90 percent of all the tires generated annually are going to an end-use market. At that time there were only 128 million tires remaining in stockpiles. When you consider that we started with over 1 billion in stockpiles that is a tremendous decrease. Since we did the last market survey, the number of tires in stockpiles decreased even further. I’m confident there are less than 100 million remaining in these stockpiles.

Is the use of tire-derived-fuel (TDF) increasing or declining? Does the use of this alternative fuel source continue to raise objections? Have measures been developed to make it a cleaner burning fuel?

Blumenthal: Over the last one and a half years, the number of tires going to TDF has decreased a little bit because a number of cement kilns or the cogeneration plants that were using TDF, have closed because of the recession. The current rate of tires used as TDF is around 52 percent. There are a good number of users still making use of TDF, but the increases were not enough to offset the decreases. Is this going to be a temporary situation? It all depends upon how quickly and how strong the economy comes back. If it doesn’t come back in a way that gets the construction industry going, we won’t see too many cement kilns come on-line and that is going to have an impact on the overall percentage of tires used as fuel.

The air pollution control technology remains about the same. TDF is a relatively clear burning fuel. People have gotten to a great level of hysteria about TDF and there are myths about the fact that if you use TDF, you will turn your smoke black. That is not true. Tires burn hot and burn clean, so they have always been a relatively clean burning fuel.

To what extent has the RMA been successful, working with the industry to develop more efficient systems for tire collection and storage?

Blumenthal: These issues are dealt with by the industry itself. The industry has developed a very efficient transportation and processing capacity on its own. What the RMA has done is to work with state regulatory agencies to make sure that the regulations are enforced – enforcement is the most important thing a state can do to maintain the collection and processing efficiencies. We have worked with the International Fire Code and the National Fire Protection Association on outdoor and indoor storage regulations of tires.

Are citizens, businesses and government aware of the issues surrounding the recycling of tires and what more can be done to address the problem?

Blumenthal: The vast majority of the people working at the federal, state and local agencies, as well as the public, are really not aware of what is going on in the scrap tire industry, what the issues are and what needs to be done. There are a small number of people at the federal and state level working with the issue of scrap tires, but when you look at the overall marketplace for secondary products, scrap tires are typically not a priority for most states or municipalities. This is because the industry is handling the problem and the amount of tires produced are overwhelmed by larger issues such as e-waste recycling and municipal recycling.

Some state governments charge an advance disposal fee (ADF) in the price of tires. Do these fees reflect the true cost? Would a nationwide fee on tires help to create funding for grants to deal with discarded tires?

Blumenthal: I don’t think that we’ll see a federal fee on tires. A good number of states have cleaned up their tire stockpiles and have markets for all their tires and they won’t want to see new fees. The ADF that a state charges is not used for collection or processing of tires – that fee goes to the state agencies for the abatement of stockpiles, market development projects and enforcing the regulations.

The cost of disposal is reflected in the disposal fees that the retailers assess consumers when they buy a new set of tires. That money – $3 per passenger car tire – are used to cover the cost of transporting the tire from the point of purchase to the tire processor, because there are still negative costs when the processor gets the tire. The idea is to turn the tire into a higher value added product and then sell it to the market place. That helps the economics, so the fees that the states assess, are not a true indicator of the costs of disposal.