Tire recycling has come a long way, says tire processing veteran and current consultant Terry Gray of Houston-based T.A.G. Resource Recovery. However, Gray also remarked while speaking at the Spotlight on Tires session at the ISRI2017 convention, some of the end markets for scrap tires are currently facing difficulties, causing a sense of disruption in the overall market.
Gray said he started in the North American scrap tire processing sector in 1984, when as few as 1 percent of all scrap tires were being recycled. More than 30 years later, the industry can be described as “more mature” he said, with almost 90 percent of scrap tires now being processed for recycling. “That’s a pretty good track record,” said Gray.
The bad news for scrap tire processors are government-related obstacles being faced in several key end markets. Gray said a tax credit that had been available to users of tire-derived fuel (TDF) had expired in some states, “so [energy] plants are failing that had converted to TDF.”
He said officials in one such state, Michigan, are acknowledging they will need to find and boost alternative end markets for scrap tires, but Gray said in many New England states “It’s a real issue and they’ve got their heads in the sand.”
In the ground or crumb rubber markets, the sports field additive market had been emerging as a strong consumer, but that end market is taking a hit from (as yet unsubstantiated) claims that athletes coming into contact with crumb rubber on fields are experiencing health issues, including cancer.
By Gray’s estimate, some 30 percent of sports fields are in regions such as New England and California where regulators are advising turf managers to be wary of using crumb rubber. In 2015, 25 percent of crumb rubber was used on sports fields and another 23 percent as playground surfacing or as mulch, so shrinkage in any of those markets will cause considerable disruption, said Gray.
Gray characterized the rubberized asphalt market for ground tires as often subject to “wait and see” attitudes, but he said the manufactured products sector for molded rubber has been one brighter spot.
J.D. Wang, the CEO of California-based ReRubber LLC, says his company’s investors have been putting most of their R&D resources into the crumb rubber and powder categories, after acknowledging that the firm “has gone through eight years of disruption” itself. “In our first five years, we processed a lot, and failed a lot,” he commented.
ReRubber is now focusing on making rubber powder, researching and opening up end markets for the tire-derived powder to be used in protective and architectural coatings applications. The company is exploring a supply loop that Wang says allows it to “innovate” and conduct research in California, then more rapidly implement the ideas in Asia or “work out the kinks” there, and then bring successful ideas back to the United States.
Offering a point of view from state government, Elizabeth Hoover of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said in that state in the 1990s, TDF used at cement plants represented “about the only markets” for scrap tires.
She remarked that emissions concerns about zinc levels had harmed that market, and now the health questions surrounding the field turf market are presenting a new disruption. Unless scrap tire processors have diversified markets, “you have problems on your hands,” warned Hoover.
Her message to scrap tire processors was that states can provide help in the form of loans for equipment, workshops and conferences and assistance in identifying and developing end markets. She also remarked, however, that because of tight state budgets, “a lot of that [potential assistance] is beginning to dry up.”
ISRI2017 was in at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans April 22-27, 2017.