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State-Supported Tire Recycling Gathers Pace

But finding a bigger market for recycled tires still hampers industry

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ABOUT 2 billion waste tires sit in several thousand dump sites across the United States, and the growing pile is prompting state governments to tackle the problem by stimulating the fledgling tire recycling industry.

There are now tire recovery programs in 47 states.

But while many tire dumps are being cleaned up, hundreds more remain breeding grounds for pests, especially mosquitoes.

``We find rattlesnakes, rats, mice, skunks, possums, feral cats, everything in these old tire dumps,'' says tire shredder Jerry Martinez, an employee of Tire Recycling of San Antonio. One of about 200 companies now shredding tires in the US, Tire Recycling has stockpiled about 1.3 million shredded tires because the company cannot find a buyer for its material.

Meanwhile, the supply of used tires continues to grow. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans discard about 250 million tires each year.

The challenges to the nascent industry are formidable. Illegal dumping of tires continues because state law prevents many landfills from accepting them. One dump site in California contains more than 30 million tires.

``Tires were made to last a long time and they do. So they are hard to wear down, melt down, or reformulate into a different product,'' explains Hope Pillsbury, who works in the EPA's solid-waste division. ``Glass bottles can be turned into more glass bottles. But it's hard to take tire rubber and make it back into tires.''

Mary Sikora, publisher of the Connecticut-based Scrap Tire News, says tire recyclers are responding to the challenge. ``Tires may not be as far along as paper, but the market is coming along,'' she says. ``It's not any different from growth in other recycling markets. A certain amount of infrastructure has to come on line before viable markets are created.''

Burning tires for fuel is one solution. With a Btu content equal to coal, Ms. Sikora estimates that 58 million tires a year are burned by paper mills, electric utilities, cement producers, and other large energy consumers.

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