By Susan Ernsdorff
Methow Recycles recently hosted a “Tire Amnesty” day, where local residents could drop off unwanted tires for no charge. We thought you’d like to know a little more about this.
The day was part of a countywide series, paid for by a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology to the Okanogan County Health Department. Discarded tires are a health concern for several reasons: They collect stagnant water, which is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes; they provide ideal habitat for rodents and other nuisance wildlife; and piles of tires are also a fire risk.
Methow Recycles accepted tires from about 125 people who brought as few as one or two or as many as 200 tires. Approximately 3,000 tires were received, which included several dozen tractor and commercial truck tires. About one-third of the tires were on rims. The total weight of tires was over 58 tons!
The event was primarily staffed by volunteers. Our tremendous thanks go to them. This was not easy work! The Liberty Bell High School football team and coaches helped on the day of the event, unloading the incoming cars, truck and trailers. They also loaded two semis parked on-site; the rest of the tires were piled in the parking lot, which, by the end of the day, formed a mountain 40 feet by 50 feet by 6 feet high.
Over the following two weeks, a total of 15 amazing volunteers showed up for some or all of three trailer-loading shifts. It took spirited teamwork to dismantle and load the mountain of tires, especially those large tires on rims. Some volunteers were rollers, some were lifters, some were stackers. Volunteers demonstrated strength and stamina, and the willingness to get covered in mud! In total, the process took 67 volunteer hours and 20 hours of Methow Recycles staff time.
The tires were shipped to a tire-to-fuel processing company called Tire Recycling and Disposal, in Portland, Ore. They separate tires from rims, shred the tires and separate out the steel (from the steel belts), and sell shredded tire fuel. Commercial truck tires are sold whole to a company that makes rubber play mats. According to the buyer, our fuel tires will be either be used in cement kilns in northern California or British Columbia or exported to Korea or Japan. They have inspected all the locations where the fuel would be burned and all are “clean” incinerators, meaning the off-gas is scrubbed of toxics.
The sale of tires and tire fuel does bring in very modest revenue to the processor, but the whole process costs a significant amount of money. Transportation costs and processing and handling costs are primarily paid for by the fees charged to the tire provider. The fee for our tires was covered by the Department of Ecology grant and totaled almost $10,000. Methow Recycles received no reimbursement for our expenses.
None of these tires will go to rubberized asphalt. According to our buyer, this type of road surface is tricky to apply. It requires specialized equipment and must be done in warm weather. It is also more expensive than regular asphalt. It is mostly done in southern California and Arizona. A trial program in Washington was not properly done which resulted in rapid road failure — it has not been tried again.
The generation of used tires vastly exceeds the demand for used-tire products. Burning them as fuel, although it is not recycling, does provide a beneficial use and gets them out of our yards and fields.
Methow Recycles was pleased to collaborate with the county and the state on this event, and we will be happy to host it again if the opportunity arises.
Susan Ernsdorff is the operations manager for Methow Recycles.