Discarded tires are a serious environmental problem. Tire dumps sometimes catch fire and burn for days, giving off potentially dangerous smoke. Four years ago, an uncontrolled tire dump fire destroyed part of a heavily-traveled interstate highway that passed near a residential area of Philadelphia. Poorly maintained tire dumps are breeding grounds for mosquitos and rats.
Pennsylvania has one of the largest numbers of tire dumps among the states, generating 12 million scrap tires (or 120,000 tons) a year, or about one per person. While EPA does not regulate the 270 million scrap tire dumps in the United States, it does support recycling programs. One such program is run by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, an 18,000-member group founded in 1932 and dedicated to "saving the places we care about."
The Conservancy has found new uses for these distasteful discards. Under the state^s Waste Tire Recycling Act of 1996, the group received a grant of $75,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) this year to restore three athletic fields for schools, using discarded tires. This project will use 54,000 pounds of waste tires, or 54 tons.
These recycled tires, developed by Michigan State University, are known as Crown III Crumb Rubber topdressing. AgRecycle, Inc., a western Pennsylvania-headquartered composting operation dedicated to recycling and reuse of organic materials supplies the material. Eichenlaub, Inc., a Pittsburgh landscaping company, provides staff for soil preparation and application.
The soil is first prepared by aeration or by adding compost. Then the rubber crumb topdressing is applied, designed to protect the grass^s "trunk," or crown. This part of the grass projects from the roots, the same way a trunk does from a tree. If the crown is protected, the grass can easily regenerate itself.
The rubber crumb also reduces soil compaction and conserves moisture. "Using these tires is much less expensive than using sod and is a good use of tires," says Josie Gaskey, director of Community Conservation for the Conservancy.
The Conservancy is also providing area schools with teachers and curricula to heighten the importance of protecting the environment and recycling. These schools are Center Township Youth Soccer Recreation Area in Beaver County; A. J. McMullen Middle School in Markleysburg (near Uniontown); and Seneca Valley High School in Butler County.
With the same resources and suppliers, last year the Conservancy used a grant of $50,000 from PADEP to renovate Point State Park in Pittsburgh. This 36-acre park is in the downtown area, where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio River. The park attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. The waste tires have been manufactured into fencing material as well as blocks for signs. The project used 40 tons of scrap tire.
Road building affords another use for scrap tires. They have been recycled in asphalt paving for some time, especially in Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. Also, shredded tires have been used as a lightweight filler for road material for the past ten years, competing favorably with chipped wood and styrofoam. This material can be used for roadways constructed over weak soils, marshy areas and on hillsides.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers^ Association, 200,000 tons of scrap tires were used in civil engineering applications as of 1999, split between roadbed and landfill construction.
Other uses for scrap tires include synthetic athletic fields and horse-riding areas.