Where can the rubber meet the recycler?
With hundreds of millions of tires stacked in piles around the country and millions more headed in the same direction, states are trying to find ways to turn the discarded tires into something more than a hazard.
Piles of old tires aren't just eyesores. They're susceptible to fires that can burn for weeks, filling the air with toxic smoke. What's more, stagnant rainwater that accumulates in the tires is a prime breeding ground for disease-bearing mosquitoes -- no small concern with the reports of West Nile virus increasing in Ohio.
Some recycling of tires has been undertaken: the old rubber has been recycled into rubber mats or spongy surfaces for playgrounds. Some tires are shredded and used as drainage layers in landfills. Two grants from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources will allow power companies to begin testing the burning of tires as fuel.
Gone to the dump
Yet most tires still wind up in landfills -- a tremendous waste of resources. What's needed is more research and more American ingenuity applied to the tire problem. Considering the amount of aluminum that is recycled over and over again, it could be only a matter of time before an economical and efficient process is devised to reuse the rubber in tires.
The award-winning Poland Public Library demon strates the full range of materials that can be reused or recycled, -- from wood flooring recycled from old New England barns to the siding and trim composed of cement and recycled wood fibers.
The Ecostar roofing material -- which is virtually indistinguishable from natural slate, though much, much lighter -- is composed of post-industrial recycled rubber and plastics.
What's needed is a similar kind of technology that could utilize the kind of rubber found in tires. And given the number of tires America's drivers go through annually, whoever invents a new recycling process will have plenty of almost-raw material to work with.