A Tire Story

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Rubber protects my bones and ligaments while I jog in my neighborhood park. Yet if not properly recycled, it can be more harm than good. In Puerto Rico 4.7 million scrap tires are disposed of every year and nearly 300 million in the United States. While there is a market for their proper recycling and productive use, such as the ground rubber surface I love to run on, almost one quarter of scrap tires end up in landfills and illegal dumps every year.

While tire regulations vary from state to state, and they are not treated generally a hazardous waste, they are threats to human health and the environment when not properly disposed of. Rodents and mosquitoes, such as aedes aegypti, may live and breed in them if they collect water. Fires, which are hard to extinguish, can release hazardous gases, heavy metals and oils that can contaminate not only the air but also the soil.

Tires can be used in environmentally safe applications such as ground rubber, like the one used in rubber-modified asphalt and playground applications, and rubber mulch. Some 56 million tires are recycled in the US for civil engineering projects and some 16.5 million are re-treaded.

image of tire floating in water taken from the side of a shipIn spite of all these good uses and outreach efforts being performed by local and federal environmental agencies and municipal anti-tire dumping laws, many scrap tires end up in our rivers and beaches harming habitats and ecosystems. Furthermore, during the last OSV Bold trip to Puerto Rico we found some tires floating in the ocean, miles away from the Atlantic coast.

In order to help state and local governments reduce the economic burdens and environmental risks associated with scrap tire piles, EPA Region 5 created the Scrap Tire Cleanup Guidebook. This guidebook provides the experience of dozens of professionals to assist government officials in reducing scrap tire dumping and creating prevention programs.

As an individual citizen there are many things that can be done to prevent tires from ending up in the wrong place and becoming a nuisance. If you have unused tires at home, you may be able to return surplus tires to either a tire retailer or a local recycling facility that accepts them. Also buy durable tires and take proper care of them by checking air inflation, driving in a manner that does not put unnecessary demand on tires, rotating them, balancing the wheels, and maintaining proper wheel alignment. And last but not least, support the recycled product market.