It sits in an inconspicuous industrial building just northwest of Toronto. The nicely-furnished wood panelled executive offices upstairs don’t suggest anything about what happens on the main floor, in the plant’s production area. Yet this unimposing structure houses what may be the solution to Canada’s problem of discarded automobile tires.
Brampton, Ontario-based EnviroTire Technologies Ltd. — recycles scrap tires into various grades of high-quality rubber crumb, and then uses this as the raw material for rubber shoe soles and interlocking floor mats which are produced in the same facility.
The operation is the brainchild of company President & CEO Victor Sibilia, a Canadian who first found success in the trade magazine business. After achieving success in that business, Sibilia became restless and sought a new opportunity. Something of interest presented itself in the U.S., where many of his magazine customers were located. The state government sought a solution to its growing scrap tire problem and Sibilia agreed to build a recycling plant on the understanding that the government would direct tires his way.
“We were disappointed when the market we were promised failed to materialize,” says Sibilia, who moved the operation to his home province of Ontario and vowed to never form a business again so reliant on government support.
Though he was frustrated with U.S. government officials, he felt completely the opposite about the recycling process that he originated, in which he says he invested more than $1-million in research. Though not an engineer, Mr. Sibilia studied various kinds of equipment used by his magazines’ manufacturing and furniture clients and thought up novel ways to adapt them for a very different purpose: tires.
“Because I wasn’t an engineer I didn’t know it couldn’t be done,” he jokes.
EnviroTire’s line operation occupies a remarkable small industrial footprint that could fit in almost any commercial neighbourhood. The process is clean to begin with, and a state-of-the-art air scrubber ensures that air quality inside and outside the plant is excellent and odor free. Up to 400 tires per hour are fed into a hopper and shredded. The material is carried by conveyor belt through a proprietary equipment array that chops and grinds the material into smaller and smaller sizes, eventually yielding a clean rubber crumb roughly the size of gravel.
The system is largely computer controlled, and automatically shuts down if any problem or slowdown occurs downstream in the process. (Indeed, the process is so highly automated that the plant can operate fully with only four people.)
One machine (adapted from a manufacturing industry) uses magnets and other devices to remove steel from the tires, which is remarkably clean and is sold to steel customers. The system doesn’t use water to clean the tires as this would generate enormous volumes of expensive-to-treat wastewater. Instead, a dry technology was adapted from the food processing industry to suck out all the light fibre material (which is sold as high-BTU fuel to cement kilns) and uses gravity to pull off all dirt, grit and any small aluminum or copper-type metal debris. The final product, Sibilia says, is virtually 100 per cent pure clean rubber, free of steel. This is poured into large one-tonne totes that are weighed and shipped to crumb rubber customers, or stored onsite for use in manufacturing various products.
Beyond producing clean rubber crumb without generating wastewater, the company’s best achievement may be its “closing the loop” on tire recycling by developing end markets — always a challenge in any recycling system. The facility contains a full production area for manufacturing shoe and boot soles and also rubber mats.
One challenge for tire recyclers is that vulcanized rubber cannot be “re-vulcanized.” This has, for example, prevented rubber crumb from being reused in the past to make new (vulcanized) tires. Sibilia says that his recycling process bypasses this problem to the extent that the vulcanization properties of the rubber are not destroyed. A proprietary chemical formulation is added to the rubber crumb as it’s formed into “pucks” for use in product manufacturing. This chemical makes the recycled rubber perform like new rubber in the products. Heat and pressure are used to stamp the “pucks” into interlocking mats and shoe/boot soles.
“We’re working with Vibram — the world’s largest footwear manufacturer — to supply shoe soles, which we can provide at the same quality as others, but for less money,” says Sibilia.
“The many totes you see on the floor will be used up over the summer as we fill orders from the shoe industry, which finalizes designs at spring industry shows for the fall market.”
The steel-free mat material is also popular as an underlayment for Astro Turf sports fields.
The economics appear favourable for EnviroTire, as the company is actually paid to take away tires for about $1.60 per unit . Hence the raw material for its manufacturing process is not just free; it contributes to the bottom line (along with revenues from steel and fibre sales).
“We’re already profitable,” says Sibilia of the young company, which he proudly states has received no government assistance or grants.
The company’s goal is to recycle half of Ontario’s 10 million scrap tires each year at the plant when it moves to three shifts, seven days per week. The province, under the new Bill 90, plans to establish an Interim Funding Organization (IFO) for tires, and revenues from the scrap-tire fees charged by the industry-led agency will help provide a steady flow of material to EnviroTire, and in the process clean up many of the province’s hazardous scrap tire piles.
There’s also interest in the process overseas. In 2006 an EEC ban against landfilling tires comes into effect that, in combination with higher Kyoto Accord-related costs that make incineration more expensive, will increase the appeal of tire recycling. The company is in discussions with parties in Italy, Israel and Kazakhstan to license the technology, and a deal will close for a plant in Estonia, a country in the process of joining the EEC.
Guy Crittenden is editor-in-chief of this magazine. E-mail Guy at email@example.com