RETHINKING USED TIRES: THE UPS AND DOWNS

Posted By: Brian Aboh

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture

Source: Yonghoji.com

Tires constitute a serious environmental concern on several fronts as a result of their chemical components. Toxins released from tire decomposition, incineration or accidental fires can pollute the water, air and soil. Forty two states in the United States has succeeded in regulating tire disposal to some extent, the remaining eight states have no restrictions on what you must do to discard tires [6]. Though laws are in place, illegal dumping persists and contributing negative environmental impacts [6]. According to the U.S. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), there are at least 275 million scrap tires in stockpiles in the US alone and in 2003, approximately 290 million scrap tires were generated [8]. The figures are staggering, even the state and local governments have noted the costs because of the landfill space required [8].

The problems and risk of used tires

Toxic effects

The EPA has categorized tires as municipal solid wastes rather than solid wastes which when thrown away instead of recycled can be detrimental to the environment. This occurs when the chemicals they contain are released into the environment – the breakdown of tires discharges hazardous waste [6]. Not only do tires contain oils that contaminate the soil, they also contain heavy metals, such as lead, that are persistent in the environment and accumulate over time [6].

Fire Risk

Improperly discarded tires are a major concern due to their increased fire risk. When heated, they become a fuel source. Fifty percent of recycled tires are used in fuel generation [7]. Fires fueled by tires are difficult to control and extinguish. Tire smokes which contain toxic chemicals and particulate matter can pose serious health consequences detrimental to existing respiratory conditions [7].

Pest Threat

Discarded tires also pose another environmental risk by collecting water which becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pests leading to an increased risk of vector-borne diseases like encephalitis [3]. The U.S Centers for Disease and Control has suggested removing unwanted tires from your properties because of possible health impacts [3].

Creative solutions to the used tire problem

Building with Tires for Energy Efficiency

Tires are quite attractive as building materials because of their strength and durability. Not only do they require minimal processing techniques, forward-thinking designers and builders have utilized tires to accomplish a number of goals for greener more resilient buildings [4]. Used tires are cost effective and in some cases free, and are interesting option for home building initiatives. Michael Reynold’s Earthship concept is a good example of using old tires as bricks which are filled with earth that is pounded to create strength and stability for engineering projects. Though it is labor-intensive the result has much more thermal mass  than ordinary construction with a much higher insulating factor [4].

Michael Reynold’s Simple Model Earthship.

Source: Earthship.com

Tires and Disaster Resistance

Tires are also good for disaster-resistant buildings especially for earthquakes because of their flexible nature. The Indonesian aid Foundation Group has employed the use of old tires  for house foundations to provide a “buffer zone” between the shaking earth and the house. The Colorado State University also tested this design on a seismic shake plate on a building initiative which was able to resist progressively stronger quaking [2].

Tire Sculptures

Scrap tires can also serve as a wonderful material for creating wonderful artworks. Yong Ho Ji, a Korean artist has succeeded in transforming scrap tires into recycled masterpieces. Some of his works are represented in the form of animals or mythical creatures like dragons, he also produces magnificent mutants combining two different mutants and animal/human hybrids all carved with scrap tires [1]. His works are so amazing that it can be located at the international Contemporary Art Foundation in the West Collection inside the Seoul Museum of Art [1].

Jewelry, Belts, Footwear and More as By- Products of Used Tires

The uses of old tires are enormous. These include: belts made out of bicycle tires; recycled tire roofs; picture frames; playground materials; book bags; kitchen sinks and upholstery [5]. In Ethiopia, an indigenous company by the name Solerebels Footwear gathers and sorts used tires and hand-cuts them into soles for the production of long-lasting and comfortable shoes. This company not only pays fair wages to its employees but by using locally gathered materials it also promotes a better environment and helps in transforming the economy of Ethiopia [5].  Conclusively, when tires are disposed accordingly in respect to recycling mandate and landfill prohibitions, recycled tires can be advantageous for building homes, playgrounds, road surfaces, erosion control installations to mulch for our gardens [8].

References:

[1] Adrian. 2012. The Art of Yong Ho Ji – Recycled Tire Sculptures. Designmodo Accessed th, 2014> http://designmodo.com/yong-ho-ji/
[2] Cararo. A.  2007. Engineering Professor Researching Used Tires as Filler in Roadbeds, Foundations to Combat Expansive Soils. Colorado State University.Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.news.colostate.edu/Release/879
[3] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013. West Nile Virus – Questions and Answers. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/faq/
[4] Earthship Biotecture. 2009. Tire building Code. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://earthship.com/tire-building-code
[5] SoulRebels. 2013. Trading Towards Hope and Development. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.solerebels.com/
[6] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2012. Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes and Materials- Scrap Tires. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.epa.gov/solidwaste/conserve/materials/tires/index.htm
[7] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2008.  Municipal Solid Waste in the United States- 2007 Facts and Figures. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw07-rpt.pdf
[8] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. Particulate Matter (PM) Research. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>  http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-particulatematter.htm

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