In the six seconds it will take you to read this sentence, around 54 tires reached the end of their useful life somewhere in the world. The tire industry faces an enormous recycling challenge - those 9 tires per second equate to nearly 300 million discarded tires across the U.S. annually.

Compounding the issue, 75% end up in landfills, triggering a cascade of environmental hazards from microplastic pollution to soil/groundwater contamination as toxic components slowly leach out. This ticking time bomb only intensifies as more tires pile up.

The full lifecycle of tires represents a major sustainability issue that demands attention. Vehicle fleets, including Fluid Truck, have a responsibility as high-volume users of tires. We’re all about learning and improving, aiming to tread lightly on the planet. Our commitment? To lead the way in sustainable fleet management and inspire the industry to follow suit. 

In this article, we'll examine the true environmental cost of tires from manufacturing to disposal and explore innovative solutions being developed to mitigate their impact.

The dirty road to rubber: Tire manufacturing's toxic footprint

Arial view of a large highway with many cars driving on it.
Image via Canva

Even before tires hit the road, their production leaves a staggering environmental footprint from the sourcing of raw materials to the energy-intensive and polluting manufacturing processes. 

Globally, 2.5 billion tires are produced annually, and the raw materials are just as damaging as the tire itself. Manufacturing is extremely energy-intensive, burning massive amounts of fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gasses. Tire plants also release toxic air pollutants. Tires, primarily made out of rubber, contribute to deforestation in Southeast Asia and Africa. 

Beyond air emissions, hazardous solid and liquid wastes like chemical sludges and contaminated rubber rebuffs require special handling. If mismanaged, these can contaminate soil and waterways.

From raw material acquisition to manufacturing, tire production is guilty of habitat destruction, pollution, and hazardous byproducts – setting the stage for the environmental impact to intensify even further once on vehicles.

On-road impacts

Shockingly, studies have shown that tire wear generates nearly 2,000 times more particulate pollution than what is emitted from the exhaust pipes of modern vehicles.

A major concern with tire pollution is that it goes largely unregulated. As we drive, our tires continually shed tiny particles that seep into roadways and the surrounding environment, unchecked. Unlike tailpipe emissions that are strictly regulated, this form of particulate pollution from tires has no oversight or controls in place.

Here are three ways in which tires cause environmental effects:

  • Fuel Inefficiency: Higher rolling resistance translates to increased fuel use and emissions
  • Microplastic menace: Tires continuously shed microplastics that pollute waterways and oceans, accounting for 78% of microplastics 
  • Premature replacement: Under/over-inflation and misalignment cause excessive tire wear and replacing tires prematurely compounds manufacturing environmental impacts

Effective solutions to reinvent the wheel 

Image of tires on a conveyor belt at a tire processing factory
Image via Sick Sensor Inteligence

While the environmental impacts of tires are significant, innovative solutions are rolling out to make them more eco-friendly throughout their lifecycle:

Greener manufacturing

  • Using more sustainable plant-based materials like rubber from guayule and silica from rice husks
  • Implementing circular economy principles by recycling factory waste back into production

Extending tire life

  • Producing tires with improved wear-resistance and self-sealing technologies
  • Promoting proper tire maintenance through inflation monitoring and rotation
  • Designing tires with renewable tread compounds for re-treading

Recycling and repurposing

  • Establishing more collection points and recycling facilities for scrap tires
  • Developing new approaches to process tires into rubberized asphalt, playground surfaces, and other products
  • Exploring pyrolysis and gasification to convert tires into fuel, oil, and other materials

How tires are recycled

  1. Collection and transportation: Scrap tires are collected from various sources like auto shops and landfills, and are then sorted by type and transported to a recycling facility
  2. Shredding/chipping: The first step is shredding the tires into chips or smaller crumb rubber pieces using powerful shredding machinery
  3. Processing: Depending on the intended end product, the rubber goes through different processes; such as ambient grinding, cryogenic grinding, and pyrolysis
  4. Product manufacturing: The processed rubber is used to make various products, like playground/rubber mulch,rubber-modified asphalt, brake pads/belts, new tires/rubber products, and even tire-derived fuel.

Tread toward sustainability with Fluid Truck

Exploring innovative avenues to reduce the environmental footprint of tires is crucial. 

At Fluid Truck, we're pioneering sustainable solutions with our truck rental service, revolutionizing shared mobility. By partnering with us, you not only gain access to our fleet but also tap into our resource optimization expertise tailored to your business needs. Our service ensures that vehicles are utilized efficiently, minimizing unnecessary mileage and tire wear, further contributing to a greener future.

Check out how Fluid Truck can help you meet your sustainability goals here.

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