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Graphic: tires!

Tire Trouble

Think of all the things, large and small, that we use every day. None of these things lasts forever. Eventually people get rid of many everyday things from pens and paper to washing machines and automobiles. Luckily for our planet, people have found ways to reduce the amount of garbage we create. They have also figured out how to reuse or recycle much of what we used to haul off to the dump. We still make a lot of garbage, however, and people are working hard to find creative ways to deal with it.

One big pollution problem is old tires. In the United States alone, there are more than two billion used tires. That's just too many tires. If the tires were stacked one on top of the other, they'd reach halfway to the moon! Old tires are a problem for a number of reasons. First, tires take hundreds of years to decompose. Second, the tires sometimes catch on fire and can burn uncontrollably, sending toxic smoke into the air. That could be a serious danger to our health. Another problem comes from tires that are buried in garbage dumps. These tires can trap poisonous gases that would otherwise escape into the air. When the gases trapped by tires escape all at once, they can be dangerous for anyone who is nearby. Sometimes the trapped gases make the tires shoot straight up out of the ground! A good solution to tire pollution would be to reuse these tires, not bury them.

Luckily, people have come up with creative ways of dealing with the tire problem. Some companies have begun to burn tires to make energy. At first, many people were against this idea. It seemed like the smoke from the burning rubber would cause dangerous air pollution. However, scientists and engineers have found ways to control the burning process so that there is very little pollution. Burning tires can create more energy with less cost and less pollution than burning coal. As a result, some energy plants are now using up piles of old tires. For a problem this big, however, we need more than one solution.

Recently, people have found other good uses for used tires. Some dairy farmers, for example, have used shredded tires to make beds for their cows. Those farmers believe that cows make more milk when they have tire beds because they are more comfortable.

Other people have come up with ways to use ground-up tires to make running tracks, horse racetracks, and rubber doormats. Of the many uses for used tires, the best is building highways. Ground-up tires are now used to make a kind of pavement called crumb rubber modified asphalt. Studies show that this pavement lasts twice as long as other kinds of pavement. In addition to making better pavement, this method uses up 16,000 tires per mile! Think of how many old tires would be used to pave a 100-mile section of new highway. That's a lot of tires!

The used tire problem is a big one. There can be no doubt about that. However, with so many people coming up with creative solutions, we seem well on our way to solving it.

Back to Let's Talk Tires