Old tires are some of the toughest manufactured goods on the plant. They’re also one of the most recycled. You’ll find bits of an old tire in virtually every new asphalt road built in the past few years, and you’ll even find them in rubber products all around your home. Other items in your house may even be made in factories powered by fuel derived from tires.
Tire chips today are more popular than ever as a material for playgrounds and sporting fields, helping prevent injury while keeping facility maintenance costs low. Old tires also a popular material for livestock feeding troughs. In both these applications, we have every reason to be concerned that any harmful chemicals in old tires may eventually find its way into our bodies and the surrounding environment.
The pervasiveness of recycled tire products has brought up one excellent question: are old tires safe to recycle? Thanks to decades of research by the EPA and different other institutions we finally know that yes, old tires are safe to recycle with the major caveat that we need to take precautions when recycling them.
Should I be concerned about tires releasing toxic chemicals?
The major concern is with ‘volatile organic compounds’ also called VOCs. These compounds are the result of the manufacture of a wide range of products, from newspapers to plastics. The “new car smell” and “new book smell” and the smell of new tires are the result of VOC’s off-gassing into the environment.
Some of these VOC’s have been linked to cancer, though there is some trouble verifying these studies. Tire factory workers have been shown in particular, to be at risk from these chemicals, as are workers in other rubber-processing facilities. However, no risk has ever been demonstrated for consumers. Studies of VOC levels in tires show they are comparable or less than the levels to be found in most homes.
In the case of old tires, most of the VOC’s had already off-gassed and broken down by the time they are ready to recycle at a professional tire recycling facility. Unless they are burned, it’s highly improbable that they pose any risk.
In studies of the effects of tires on marine life, it was also demonstrated that chemicals in tires posed no discernible threat. Studies were conducted on breakwaters and artificial tire reefs to see if the highly corrosive action of direct sunlight and saltwater on tires had any dangerous effect on ocean life, and no appreciable dangers were found. This was true even in cases where tires had been continuously in contact with the elements for over a decade. In fact, the only hazard found was when these old tires came loose from reefs and breakwaters and physically collided with coral reefs.
When do the VOC’s become a danger?
Applying high heat or burning tires can release not just VOC’s but other noxious compounds that may be toxic to breathe in. When old tires are improperly handled, the chemicals they release can contaminate the environment and pose a serious risk to wildlife.
In order to ensure that old tires are recycled properly, be sure to send them to a professional recycler like Western Tire Recyclers.