The Town of Hagersville (southwest of Hamilton, Ontario) will always be associated with the 17-day tire fire that occurred there in 1990. You would get no argument from anyone if you were to state that stockpiling tires in fields is the worst method of managing them, and recycling the best, where economically feasible. However, there is significant debate over other methods, namely their use as a fuel.
Canada produces approximately 26 million scrap tires annually. Of that number, less than 13 per cent are shipped for burning as tire-derived fuel (TDF). The remainder is recycled into various products or shredded for other purposes.
Of Canada’s processed scrap tires, 33 per cent is molded into manufactured products, 24 per cent is “crumbed” (i.e., pre-processed for recycling), 17 per cent is shredded, 13 per cent is used as TDF and 11 per cent is die cut into manufactured products. The remaining 2 per cent is bailed for as raw material for recycling.
By contrast, 2003 U.S. statistics reveal that the 44.7 per cent of the 233 million scrap tires generated in that county are used as TDF, mainly in the manufacture of cement. The next biggest use of scrap tires in the U.S. is civil engineering (i.e., road construction) at 19.4 per cent. After that, ground rubber (i.e., sports surfaces) at 9.7 per cent and landfilling (9.3 per cent) were fourth and five on the list. In 2003, the use of tires in electric arc furnaces (for the production of high-carbon steel) only made up 0.2 per cent of the 233 million scrap tires generated that year; however, that is expected to expand.
Interestingly, U.S. statistics indicate that the third largest use of scrap tires falls into the “unknown” category. In 2003, it was not known where 22 million scrap tires (9.7 per cent of the total) ended up. Tire swings, perhaps? In Ontario, similarly, between five and 15 per cent of scrap tires generated annually are unaccounted for and are considered either stockpiled or landfilled.
The cement industry has long called for the use of tires for energy. It argues that use of TDF lessens the need for other fuels (i.e., coal) and cuts overall greenhouse gas emissions. Also, a cement plant using TDF is more competitive because scrap tires are less costly than fossil fuel.
In Canada, three cement manufactures (one in Quebec and two in B.C.) and one specialty paper manufacture (located in B.C.) currently burn tires. In Ontario, only one cement kiln is permitted to use TDF (Essroc Italcementi Group, in Picton, Ontario) but as of yet does not do so. A recent product stewardship proposal in Ontario to manage tires was ultimately sent back to the drawing board because it would have encouraged tire burning, something that’s prohibited under the Waste Diversion Act.
All Canada’s provinces except Ontario have tire stewardship programs; many manage the funds collected from “environmental levies” placed on tires to fund reprocessing.
In the Maritimes, Tire Recycling Atlantic Canada Corporation (TRACC) operates three facilities. The main products are animal mats, parts for the auto after-market, and manhole collars and risers. In Prince Edward Island, the Island Waste Management Corporation (a government-run entity) collects and processes all scrap tires.
There are three major processors in British Columbia and six in Manitoba. In Saskatchewan, several recycling companies process approximately 1.2 million passenger tire equivalents (PTE) annually. A program pays a transportation incentive for the transport of scrap tires from the generating site to the nearest eligible processor.
The Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA) manages that province’s scrap-tire program. ARMA has been criticized for collecting excessive fees and allegedly sending many shredded tires for use as alternative daily cover in landfills. (See Up Front section in last edition, pages 6 and 7.)
Quebec has 18 processors and Ontario has several more.
U.S and Canada
Why is there such a discrepancy in the percentage of scrap tires used as fuel in U.S. compared to Canada? For starters, several Canadian provinces have banned outright the burning of tires.
For example, in Nova Scotia there is a ban on the landfilling or incineration of used tires. The only processing facility in the province receives the used tires collected through the province’s stewardship program and receives funds for processing.
Over 40 cement kilns in the U.S. have been using TDF as a substitute for coal for the past 20 years. Independent, third-party research has consistently demonstrated that cement kilns have continuously met and exceeded the emissions standards in all jurisdictions where is used, so the issue is not one of emissions so much as the assumed lifecycle benefits of reprocessing the tires.
Canada’s current aversion to the use of scrap tires as fuel in cement kilns needs to be reconsidered, at least for that portion of used tires that can’t be economically recycled or reused. Now is a good time to revisit the policy mix, in light of the energy crunch that has gripped North America.
Ideally, stewardship programs should allow scrap tires to become a commodity traded on an open market. Cement manufacturers, re-use industries and others would purchase used tires as needed. The environment would be protected through legislation and enforcement of kilns equipped with the most modern pollution control technology, and consumers could even receive money for their used tires instead paying a tire tax.
John Nicholson is a management consultant with Environmental Business Consultants based in Toronto, Ontario. E-mail John at email@example.com