New uses for old tires

Recycling: Cleanup campaign succeeds, but search continues for workable disposal options.

November 07, 2001

OLD TIRES are a nuisance and a potential environmental hazard, but they're also a source of reusable materials and energy.

A decade ago, 10 million of these rubber castoffs littered the state at illegal dumpsites. Maryland enacted a tire recycling fee to pay for the cleanup and fund recovery projects. Scrap tire collection sites were licensed.

Because of success in cleaning up old tires, the fee for the state fund dropped from $1 to 40 cents per tire last year.

But that's only the state fee charged buyers for more than 5 million new tires sold in Maryland annually. Dealers typically charge customers a few bucks per tire for their own expenses, primarily hauling and disposal of old ones at an approved recycling site.

And those costs are going up. One of the major disposal facilities stopped accepting old tires this month. Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Carroll County burned over 2 million scrap tires a year as fuel for its high-temperature kilns. As it installs new equipment, Lehigh has shut the door to scrap tires.

In response, Carroll County plans to triple the fee it collects for handling old tires. Lehigh charged $40 a ton to take the tires from the landfill. Hauling them to a Pennsylvania incinerator will cost $130.

The trickle-down effect will mean higher charges for consumers from tire sellers. And that could mean more people simply taking their old tires and dumping them illegally instead of paying a dealer for proper disposal.

That would be a setback to the tire recycling and cleanup program. Incinerators in Frederick and Harford counties also burn oil-rich scrap tires for energy, but periodically limit their intake.

There's also a tire recycler in West Baltimore, and Maryland Environmental Service is planning a new facility to produce shredded tires for road construction, fuel and recycled products.

With old tires banned from landfills, finding responsible disposal options that are economically viable remains a challenge.

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