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Scrap Tires: Frequent Questions

Answers to commonly asked questions about scrap tires are provided below. In many cases, links to additional information are also provided.

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Photo: car in a junkyard with old tires laying on the ground nearby.
  1. I have a few tires at home. How can I recycle them?
  2. What is the current status of tire recycling and disposal in the U.S.?
  3. What do EPA and State and local governments do to ensure that tire incineration facilities are safe?
  4. What is the states' experience with tire-derived fuel (TDF)?
  5. I want to start a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires. How do I get into the tire/rubber recycling business?
  6. Where can I get a grant or a loan for the purpose of starting a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires?
  7. What permits do I need to start a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires?
  8. What types of pollution results from tire fires?
  9. What are the state regulations on scrap tires?
  10. What are some innovative ways tires can be recycled?
  11. What is the status of scrap tire rubber being used in highways?
  12. Can scrap tires be recycled into new tires?
  13. What can I do to help?
  14. When tires are used in new products that come in contact with soil or water, do they pollute the environment?
  15. What are the benefits of recycling scrap tires?
  16. What are the benefits of incinerating scrap tires for energy recovery?
  17. Why do I have to pay tire disposal fees? What is the money used for?
  18. Does EPA certify tire recyclers?
  19. Does EPA certify products with recycled tire content?
  20. Is there a risk to human health from tire piles?
  21. What products are made from tires?
  22. What can you tell me about pyrolysis?

Life cycle of a tire1. I have a few tires at home. How can I recycle them?

You may be able to return surplus tires to either a tire retailer or a local recycling facility that accepts tires. Be sure to confirm that the facility accepts tires for recycling and check for quantity and size limitations. Some local municipalities will also periodically conduct "tire amnesty days" when any local citizen can bring a limited number of tires to a drop-off site free of charge. For more information, or if you have large numbers of scrap tires, contact your local solid waste management agency.


2. What is the current status of tire recycling and disposal in the US*?

Number of scrap tires generated annually:

290 million

Percentage of total solid waste generated:

2.0 percent

Number of scrap tires going to a market:

233 million

Number of scrap tires used for fuel:

130 million

Number of scrap tires used in civil engineering projects:

56 million

Number of scrap tires used in ground rubber applications:

28 million

Number of scrap tires punched/stamped into new products:

7 million

Number of tires exported:

9 million

Number of tires in stockpiles:

265 million

*2003 statistics, Rubber Manufacturers Association

More information on the current status of scrap tire management and recycling in the US


3. What do EPA and State and local governments do to ensure that tire incineration facilities are safe?

Facilities such as cement kilns, pulp and paper plants, and industrial and institutional boilers must be permitted, to ensure that any air emissions from these processes are within allowable limits.

Based on the results of EPA's 1997 study on Air Emissions from Scrap Tire Combustion (PDF 650 KB), it was concluded that potential emissions from tire derived fuel are often less and generally within the same range as emissions from conventional fossil fuels, as long as combustion occurs in a well-designed, operated, and well-maintained combustion device.

In general, results from 22 industrial facilities indicate that properly designed existing solid fuel combustors can supplement their normal fuels (e.g., coal, wood, and various combinations of coal, wood, oil, coke, and sludge) with 10 to 20% TDF and still satisfy environmental
compliance air emissions limits.

4. What is the states' experience with tire-derived fuel (TDF)?

Currently, more than 80 facilities in about 30 states incinerate scrap tire material for energy recovery. A total of 130 million scrap tires were used as tire-derived fuel (TDF) in 2003, up from 25 million in 1990. For more information on states' experience with TDF, see Where You Live, the Rubber Manufacturer's Association , and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission .


5. I want to start a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires. How do I get into the tire/rubber recycling business?

  • Investigate your specific situation—local markets, local regulations, competition.
  • Develop a business plan—be specific about details—match your plan against regulatory requirements, industry standards, and market conditions.
  • Communicate with state and local regulatory agencies.

Contact your local small business assistance organization to help set up a business plan and learn about opportunities in your area. Also refer to EPA's Business Planning Guides for developing business plans for the recycling industry.

Learn more about scrap tire business development (provided by Scrap Tire News online).


6. Where can I get a grant or a loan for the purpose of starting a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires?

The majority of funding for scrap tire management and recycling is at the state level. However, some Federal research funding is available. If you are planning to develop a new, innovative process, you may be able to obtain a grant from EPA's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program. To learn more about this program, visit the SBIR Web site.

State agencies provide the majority of funding for scrap tire management and clean-up. Contact your state agency for specific information on grant/funding opportunities.

Learn more about grants and loans.


7. What permits do I need to start a company to recycle or dispose of scrap tires?

Almost every state has developed a scrap tire program, including state scrap tire laws and regulations. Generally these state programs address scrap tire collection, storage, and processing. States may require manifests for scrap tire shipments or have permitting requirements for scrap tire handlers. Facilities incinerating scrap tires for energy must obtain appropriate permits as well, from state and/or local governments. More information about state scrap tire programs.

Check with your state and local regulatory agencies for specific requirements.

Learn more about tire laws.


8. What types of pollution results from tire fires?

Tire fires can result in air pollution, and in oily runoff that can contaminate soil, surface water, and groundwater. The oily material is also highly flammable. Tire fires result in thick smoke throughout the surrounding area which can contain pollutants harmful to human health including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, styrene, phenols, and butadiene. Tire fires also threaten nearby water supplies with harmful contaminants such as lead and arsenic contained in the oily runoff.

Learn more about tire fires.


9. What are the state regulations on scrap tires?

Each state develops its own scrap tire laws and regulations. These laws typically set the rules for scrap tire storage, collection, processing, and use. Consult EPA's Quick Reference Guide to State Scrap Tire Programs (PDF 262 KB) which summarizes state scrap tire regulations and programs. Also contact state environmental regulatory agencies to learn more about scrap tire laws in your state.

Learn more about tire laws.


Photo: Tire swing

10. What are some innovative ways tires can be recycled?

There are lots of innovative ways to recycle tires! There are currently at least 110 new products that contain recyclable tire rubber. The fastest growing markets are playground cover, soil additives (adding fine, shredded tire pieces to soil for various purposes), flooring/matting, and landfill construction material. Rubberized asphalt also uses a large number of scrap tires each year—many state departments of transportation are using tire material in highway construction.

Learn more about innovative uses for scrap tires.


11. What is the status of scrap tire rubber being used in highways?

The use of ground rubber from scrap tires in highways is the largest single use of recycled rubber. Currently 12 million scrap tires per year are used in highways. Both the Federal Highway Administration and a number of state environmental and transportation departments have used and investigated rubberized asphalt for highways. Arizona has been a leader in this area, while California, Connecticut, New York, and Texas have also had positive experiences with rubberized asphalt. A recent study developed by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA, 2002) showed that asphalt-rubber pavement has a lower life-cycle cost than conventional pavement.

Learn more about ground rubber applications.


12. Can scrap tires be recycled into new tires?

Rubber from scrap tires can be ground and reused as a low-volume filler material in a new tire. However, ground rubber use is generally a small percentage of new tires primarily due to product quality constraints.


Maintain proper air inflation!

This simple and inexpensive maintenance procedure allows tires to last much longer before they must be discarded. Maintaining proper air inflation also improves gas mileage and helps reduce auto emissions.

13. What can I do to help?

There are many things you can do to help recycle scrap tires and prevent them from ending up in the wrong places where they can do harm to the environment or to human health:

  • Buy durable tires.
  • Take proper care of tires by checking air inflation, driving in a manner that does not put unnecessary demand on tires, rotating the tires, balancing the wheels, and maintaining proper wheel alignment.
  • Purchase used tires.
  • Buy retreads.
  • Support the recycled product market—look for products made with scrap tires/recycled rubber.

You can also—

Report Illegal Dumping

If you see illegal dumping taking place, copy the license place and make of the vehicle, the time, date, and place that the dumping took place. Call your local "crimestoppers" organization or your local law enforcement agency. You could also check the blue pages of your local telephone directory, for specific litter prevention phone numbers.

Dispose of Tires Properly

There are several ways to dispose of used tires properly:

  • Leave used tires with a reputable tire dealer-a fee is usually charged for this service.
  • Bring used tires to a local tire collection event for disposal.
  • Call your county or local solid waste transfer station/landfill and ask if they accept used tires.
  • Contact your county or local recycling center and ask if they accept used tires.

Reduce Your Usage

If everyone helps out just a little, major progress can be made toward reducing the total amount of used tires generated. Things you can do to help include:

  • Purchase tires with longer tread life.
  • Rotate your tires every 4,000 miles.
  • Balance your tires when you rotate them.
  • Check for/inflate tires to recommended air pressure levels once a month or before every long trip.
  • Use public transportation and carpool.

14. When tires are used in new products that come in contact with soil or water, do they pollute the environment?

There is no current evidence showing that products containing recycled rubber from scrap tires substantially increases the threat to human health and the environment as compared to the threats associated with conventional products.

Research has been conducted on the potential effect of using scrap tires in civil engineering applications/highway construction on groundwater quality. Some states require that tire shreds not be placed below the water table, to prevent potential water quality concerns.


Photo: Tire garden

15. What are the benefits of recycling scrap tires?

Preferred management methods for municipal solid waste are waste prevention, followed by recycling, followed by incineration for energy recovery, and finally land disposal. For tires, retreading is a form of waste prevention and saves valuable resources. Recycling also conserves materials. For example, the use of ground rubber in products and in rubberized asphalt saves new resources from being used. In cases like these, recycling makes good economic sense.


16. What are the benefits of incinerating scrap tires for energy recovery?

Incinerating tires for energy recovery utilizes scrap tires that might otherwise be landfilled, produces energy, and saves money as other fuels are replaced partially by scrap tires. This beneficial use has greatly increased in the last decade.

Tires produce the same amount of energy as oil and 25% more energy than coal. The oil equivalency of a passenger tire is 7 gallons and the heat content of shredded tires is 10 to 16% higher than that of coal. Tires have a high heating value—each pound of scrap tire rubber is equivalent to 15,000 BTUs of energy.

Learn more about tire derived fuel (TDF).


17. Why do I have to pay tire disposal fees? What is the money used for?

Many, but not all, states collect tire fees. In states where there are no tire fees, tire dealers, junk yards, etc. may charge customers for disposal (or may include the cost in the price of the tires purchased). In most states, the fees collected are dedicated to tire recycling and scrap tire cleanup, however, some states may use these funds for scrap tire management and market development. Other states use a portion of tire fees to fund other state projects.

Learn more about tire fees.


18. Does EPA certify tire recyclers?

States are responsible for permitting tire recyclers. Most transporters of scrap tires and storage facilities must be permitted by the states. Most states have requirements for those who are either transporting or storing scrap tires. In most cases, transporters are required by states to maintain records using a manifest system. EPA's report, State Scrap Tire Programs – A Quick Reference Guide (PDF 262 KB), provides a summary of permitting and recordkeeping requirements.

Learn more about state tire laws.


19. Does EPA certify products with recycled tire content?

EPA does not certify products made with recycled tire content. Consult independent, non-profit organizations such as Green Seal who certify and/or recommend products that cause less toxic pollution and waste, conserve resources and habitats, and minimize global warming and ozone depletion. Green Seal provides objective and unbiased information to direct the purchaser to environmentally responsible products and services.

The EPA has developed Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines for designated products, with accompanying recycled-content recommendations. EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Web site includes an online searchable database of environmental information for environmentally preferable products including tires and products made from recycled tires.

EPA has no financial interest in the products that it mentions, nor in any manufacturer or company.


20. Is there a risk to human health from tire piles?

Disease carrying pests such rodents can inhabit tire piles. Mosquitoes can also breed in the stagnant water that collects inside tires. Several varieties of mosquitoes can carry deadly diseases, including encephalitis and dengue fever.

Tire fires also release thick black smoke and air pollutants, and ground and surface water pollution that can be harmful to human health and the environment.


21. What products are made from tires?

Numerous products can be made with scrap tires. Scrap tires may be cut, punched, and stamped into various rubber products after removal of the steel bead. Products include floor mats, belts, gaskets, shoe soles, dock bumpers, seals, muffler hangers, shims, and washers.

Whole tires also have uses as highway crash barriers and for boat bumpers on marine docks.

Shredded tires may be used in many different types of applications.

The 3 primary scrap tire markets are:

  • Tire derived fuel
  • Civil engineering applications
  • Ground rubber applications/rubberized asphalt

Learn more about innovative uses for scrap tires.


22. What can you tell me about pyrolysis?

Pyrolysis is a process in which tires can be subjected to high heat, under controlled conditions, resulting in steel, oil, and carbon black. Although it has been shown repeatedly to be scientifically possible, economically and practically it has not proven to be a viable process. High capital investment and operating costs typically inhibit tire pyrolysis from being made commercially available.

For additional information, see:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
www.epa.gov