Missouri citizens generate approximately 5 million scrap tires annually. Without efforts to recycle or make other use of these tires, problems can arise. Scrap tire dumps are homes to mosquitoes, snakes, rodents and other unwanted varmints. These dumps can create major health hazards. One of the most serious is the West Nile virus that is transmitted by mosquitoes. Tire dumpsites also create fire hazards, which can cause serious air quality problems, as well as contaminate the soil and surface water.
The state of Missouri began its scrap tire cleanup in 1990, resulting in over one thousand dumpsites being removed. Under the direction of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, over 16 million scrap tires have been cleaned up from these existing sites. Though the removal of the scrap tire dumpsites in our state has become a priority for the Solid Waste Management program’s Scrap Tire Unit, there still remain an estimated 200 existing dumpsites, housing about 300,000 tires. Furthermore, it is estimated there are over half a million tires in unidentified and hidden sites across the state.
Even when all the tire dumpsites are cleaned up in Missouri, there still remains the need to recycle the almost 5 million tires that are discarded annually. The goal is to keep these scrap tires out of landfills and ditches by recycling and recovering the major resources in the tires—rubber, steel, and fiber—and to create new markets for the core product, crumb rubber.
Crumb rubber is the term usually applied to the recycled rubber removed from scrap tires. During the process of recycling, the steel and fluff from the cord of the tires is removed, leaving the tire rubber. Asphalt rubber is the largest market for crumb rubber in the United States. An estimated 220 million pounds, or approximately 12 million tires, is used annually in asphalt rubber. This may be the fastest growing use of scrap tires. Other uses include ground rubber for placement under playground equipment and as a surface material for running tracks and athletic fields.
Just over half of all scrap tires is used as fuel in cement kilns, pulp and paper mills and industrial and utility boilers. This fuel is reported to be cleaner and more economical than coal. In some coal-burning electric plants, the scrap tire fuel and coal are actually used together. Nationwide this Tire Derived Fuel (TDF) accounts for over 50% of the total scrap tires generated in the U.S. in one year. However, Missouri’s scrap tire fuel usage has decreased, while asphalt rubber usage has increased. Today, at least 275 million scrap tires remain in stockpiles around the country, with about 290 million more tires going to scrap each year.
To fund cleanup operations, Missouri charges a 50 cent per tire scrap fee on the sale of every new tire purchased in state. At 50 cents per tire, our state’s scrap tire fee is one of the lowest in the nation. Fees range from 25 cents up to $3.25 per tire. Missouri’s scrap tire fee is set to expire (or sunset) on January 1, 2015 and will need to be extended by the Missouri Legislature in order to have funds to continue the present cleanup operations. There is talk among commission members to raise the current fee from 50 cents to one dollar, but any increase must go through the legislative process. The commission cites additional recycling costs and necessary additional research as reasons for considering the fee increase. There are no fees on the sale of used tires.