Every year, more than 200 million worn-out tires get replaced and another 15 million leave the road on scrapped cars. That’s a lot of round, black blight collecting in vacant lots and piling up into unsightly mountains. Fires that start in such mounds are notoriously hard to extinguish. Traditional landfill disposal isn’t viable because tires are bulky and buoyant. When their cavities fill with methane, the tires migrate to the surface, fill with water, and become mosquito condos.
Various government agencies have fretted over this issue for ages. The founders of what became Liberty Tire Recycling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, started getting creative about the problem in 2002. Liberty began by shredding discarded tires to make them better suited to landfills. That worked, but investing effort in thrown-away rubber was a losing proposition. Selling chipped tires as a fuel source—the average tire yields as much as two gallons of oil when burned—was a better alternative but still unprofitable. To create value from this troublesome waste stream, the Liberty group had to find new uses for the scrap material and build a nationwide tire-collecting and processing network. Doing so made Liberty the Apple of the tire-recycling industry.
FINISHED PRODUCTS range from landscaping mulch and athletic-track surfaces to replacement for aggregate in drain fields. Liberty’s crumb rubber is also a feedstock for new molded products like acoustic mats, and its tire-derived fuel is a sustainable energy source for power plants, cement kilns, and paper mills. Prices range from $10 per ton for aggregate replacement to $500 for a half-ton “super sack” of GroundSmart rubber mulch.
The next time you kick back with a cold one to watch some Monday Night Football, enjoy the fact that the rubber cushioning the turf may have come from your discarded Michelins.