Every year, the world creates over one billion scrap tires.  Currently, about 50 percent of them are burned as fuel. A socially responsible circular economy opportunity for tires exists, yet there are a number of challenges that must be addressed first.

Tire recycling is not a simple task, as tire rubber contains a host of additives used during manufacturing, making the scraps difficult to reuse in new, quality products.

Large volumes of scrap tires are shredded into crumb rubber and used in secondary applications such as synthetic turf, playground fill, and molded products. Although these uses are better than burning, other higher value-added options are becoming available as technology advances.

Best practices in recycling

Pyrolysis is one viable option. It’s a process of thermal decomposition where scrap tires are exposed to extreme heat to recover oil, carbon black or char, and metal components. Another, more promising option is a new technology called devulcanization, which is the process of rendering scrap tire rubber usable through a process of thermal-mechanical extrusion.

Proper devulcanization allows scrap tire rubber to be repurposed in new tires in meaningful amounts. For the first time, with this method, it’s possible to enable a truly circular economy where end-of-life products can be reused for their originally intended purpose rather than being repurposed in down-cycled products.

Devulcanization provides an incredible opportunity to revolutionize the way the tire industry uses resources and can lower carbon footprints. Since tire manufacturing uses the majority of the world’s rubber supply, devulcanization can deliver immense potential impact, but it will take collaboration and cooperation among stakeholders — tire producers, recyclers, innovators, solution providers, governments, and consumers — to produce the most beneficial effects.

Rolling towards a circular economy

While cooperation is required, the change to a circular economy does not need to disrupt current business practices. Rather, it can be formed by properly aligning individual linear economies.

Major challenges to implementing a sustainability-focused process include getting tire manufacturers on board to accelerate widespread adoption of devulcanization, improving quality in scrap tire processing, and changing the public perception that recycled material is inferior.

We need to start asking ourselves what the cost is of not recycling tires for optimal resource reuse and what opportunities can be found in minimizing the generation of greenhouse gases from the production of new tire rubber. The opportunity is here.  Our future generations are depending on a sustainable approach to manufacturing.