Tim Shults
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Recycled Tires: Bouncing Back from the Scrap Yard

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Stack Heap of Rubber old car tires. Make them recycled tires

Piles of old tires such as these are scattered around the world. Photo: premasagar

Great. Another flat tire. Second time this year already, too. Time to take your car in and have it fitted with a brand-new, raven-black tire. Gotta love that fresh rubber scent!

So, now what? You’ve paid the extra fee to have your old tire disposed of, so it’s off into the vast abyss of “not my problem anymore,” right? Probably will just be used to create new tires. No big deal.

Related: Find out why used can be better than new

A Dilemma that Keeps Coming ‘Round

Perhaps it would surprise you to know that the United States alone produces over 290 million scrap tires annually (2003 study by the Rubber Manufacturers Association). That’s every year. While nearly half of these tires are used for fuel, the rest are dispersed to various civil engineering projects, ground rubber applications, reused in various other products, or just exported to other countries. Hardly any used tires are used in the creation of new ones, reports the US EPA, because of quality constraints.

But what about countries outside North America? Unfortunately, many countries, don’t offer the same conservation and salvaging services that America does. In fact, even some struggling cities within the U.S., both in urban and rural neighborhoods, suffer from illegal dumping and an excess of rubber donuts. EPA estimates are that  between 500 and 800 million scrap tires are in scrap tire piles across the US, and over a billion are discarded worldwide.

Car tires were designed to be indestructible so, with the amount of used tires annually accumulating in landfills and scrap yards around the world, the now-billions of tires worldwide will not suddenly disappear. If we don’t take responsibility for automotive waste, the eco-epidemic will continue to spread.

Perhaps we can follow the examples of some creative, eco-minded entrepreneurs from around the world.

Recycled Tires: Shoes

Kenya Rubber Tire Shoe Sandal made of recycled tires.

Recycled tires make durable and comfortable sandals. Photo: Stephanie Watson

One of the most common uses for recycled tires has become as shoes. In Kenya, hand-crafted akala sandals are made from old tires and sold in street markets. The tire treads are excellent for the soles of the shoes and durable rubber is a humane replacement for animal hide material.

In Michigan, Reverend Faith Fowler inspired dozens of workers at the Cass Community Social Services center to turn old tires (approximately 35,000 annually) into flip flops. These Detroit Threads sell for the same price as a store-bought pair, but last considerably longer.

Eco-friendly outfit accessories, like shoes or belts, are both affordable to make and a popular item in the green-friendly and hipster crowd (retailing online for upwards of $80).

Recycled Tires: Art and Civil Use

Tires Sculpture Art Face made of recycled tires.

Used tires have limitless potential when used in urban art projects. Photo: Suzanne – neusuz5

If there’s going to be tires around, why not make them look more appealing and artistic? Tire sculptures have been a cheap, effective way for community renewal initiatives to promote creativity while  maintaining an urban atmosphere.

Shredded rubber functions as a safe alternative to oft-used wood chips or pebbles in public playgrounds. Falling down on or throwing rubber scraps will not cause the same harm that hazardous, traditional materials do.

Recycled Tires: Furniture

Tire Chairs lawn recycle made of recycled tires.

With a little creative vision, recycled tires can become durable, weather-proof outdoor chairs. Photo: Christmas w/a K

The durable, weather-proof nature of car tires yields a perfect material for a variety of outdoor furniture: from chairs and tables to swings (who hasn’t spend their childhood on a tire swing?) and garden hedges. Entrepreneur Anu Tandon Viera creates such outdoor furniture via The Retyrement Plan, established to bring new life to old materials.

With some elbow grease and a little creativity, we can ensure that the circle of life continues for damaged tires in fresh and innovative ways.

Star Wars Tire sculpture yoda Vader made of recycled tires.

Submit to the dark, rubber side of the Force. Photo: Thom McKiernan

What other uses could a used tire have? And what other parts of a car could be recycled into something different? Share your ideas with us!

Related: When does an old car become a classic car?

  • anu

    The retyrement plan,( Mumbai,India) uses discarded tyres and weaves a web of intricate patterns with textile and plastic wrapper waste to make comphy ottomans and pouffes that may be quite heavy …but light on your e-conscience! http://www.facebook.com/TheRetyrementPlan.