Why should you recycle your used tires?

Tires were built to be indestructible. While that’s great for your vehicle, it’s bad news for the Earth. So what exactly happens to our tires once we're done with them?

The Kentucky Division of Waste Management (DWM) estimates that about 4 million scrap tires are generated annually in Kentucky. The DWM strongly encourages consumers to leave worn tires with the retailer when purchasing a new set. For a small fee, that retailer can manage the tire in an earth-friendly way.

Tires were built to be indestructible. While that’s great for your vehicle, it’s bad news for the Earth. In the past, tires often ended up as junk in landfills, stockpiles, vacant properties, on the side of the road, and in waterways. Repurposing tires was almost unheard of just 25 years ago and back in 1990, only 11 percent of scrap tires each year were recycled, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA).

Thanks to aggressive repurposing efforts at the national and state level, innovative technologies, and environmental regulations, the recycling of tires is now a priority in the U.S. By 2015, nearly 9 in 10 used tires in the U.S. were given new life, according to the USTMA. With only about 10 percent of used tires now making it to a landfill, the reuse rate for tires exceeds that for plastic bottles, glass bottles, and even aluminum cans.

The Kentucky Division of Waste Management (DWM) estimates that about 4 million scrap tires are generated annually in Kentucky. The DWM strongly encourages consumers to leave worn tires with the retailer when purchasing a new set. For a small fee, that retailer can manage the tire in an earth-friendly way.

For individuals who prefer to manage proper tire disposal themselves, the state-run Waste Tire Collection Program allows Kentuckians to drop off unwanted tires at specific locations within their county at no cost. The division warns that residential pickup services will not take used tires, and not all landfills will, either.

So what happens to tires when they retire from life on the road? Luckily, used tires can be made into many awesome things, like:

  • Tire-derived fuel
    The majority of used tires are turned into a more economical alternative to fossil fuels. This gas is commonly used in cement kilns, paper mills, and industrial boilers. 
     
  • Ground rubber
    More than 60 million used tires in the U.S. each year are recycled as rubberized asphalt, sport surfaces like fields and running tracks, mulch, and rubberized asphalt. Never heard of rubberized asphalt? This method results in quieter, more durable roads.
     
  • Civil engineering
    Tire shreds are a lightweight alternative to fill materials such as gravel or sand. Recycled tires work great for road and landfill construction, septic tank leach fields, and embankments. Their compress­ibility and high permeability make tire shreds a perfect fit for building retaining walls. Tire shreds drain much better than gravel, and provide 9 times more thermal insulation than gravel.
     
  • Do-it-yourself home projects
    There are plenty of things you can do with used tires around your house. Turn them into colorful flowerbeds, or give your kids the gift of an old-fashioned tire swing. You can even paint one and stuff a pillow inside for a wonderfully fluffy pet bed. Just be aware that if you allow water to collect in a tire, it can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

For more information on Kentucky’s Waste Tire Collection Program, click here.

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