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How tire recycling is reducing harmful emissions

Scrap tires are stacked in a pile
People expect that products made from recycled tires will deliver ecological benefits when compared to the use of (new) materials they displace. Pixabay

A new study has confirmed that tire recycling reduces harmful emissions when compared to the impacts of using new materials to create the same products. 

Meeting producer obligations under Ontario's Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act (RRCEA) and Tire Regulation 225/18 means providing services to producers that ensure they meet their regulatory target to collect and recycle 100 percent of the used tires they sell into the marketplace. This includes transporting them to processing facilities and verifying how they are repurposed into new products for approved use in the marketplace as a Tire Derived Product (TDP). A TDP displaces the more conventional use of new, or "raw" materials used to make products. 

People expect that products made from recycled tires will deliver ecological benefits when compared to the use of the new materials they displace. Putting numbers to this expectation was at the heart of the Scrap Tire Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), a study that involved the elective participation of seven members of the Canadian Association of Tire Recycling Agencies (CATRA). The study included collection and analysis of participating tire recycling agencies using data spanning 2017 - 2020.

The following summary of the life cycle assessment focuses on data provided by eTracks Tire Management Systems for its 2020 tire recycling activities in Ontario including: used tire collection, hauling, processing and repurposing activities. 

Study overview 

The LCA study looked through a lens of six environmental impacts, including global warming, smog, air particulates, acidification, ozone depletion, and air and water eutrophication. Results show how a TDP fares in each of these categories when compared to the life cycle impacts of its respective displaced material. Results also show how each TDP compares with another when it comes to ecological impacts. For each of these ecological impacts, the magnitude of avoided impacts in Ontario were at least twice the magnitude of those where new materials were used, with scores for climate change/global warming, human health particulates and acidification being particularly favourable. 

The six impact categories used in the study measured the emission impacts of tire recycling activities, in comparison to the emissions that would have been created if making the same TDP from new/raw materials.

  • Climate change/global warming (kg C02): indicates the radiative forcing potential of greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide) on a 100-year timescale. i.e. With tire recycling activities: 47,000,000 kg C02 impacts, vs. without tire recycling activities: 197,000,000 kg C02. Total amount of avoided emissions:150,000,000 kg C02 
  • Smog formation (kg 03): indicates the potential creation of ground level ozone from emissions of volatile compounds that create "dirty air". i.e. with tire recycling activities: 4,500,000 kg O3, vs. without tire recycling activities: 13,400,000 kg 03. Total amount of avoided emissions: 8,900,000 kg O3 
  • Human health-particulates (PM2.5): indicates the quantity of particulate matter released into the air, adjusted for severity by comparison to 2.5-micron dust. These particles can't be seen by the human eye but can be inhaled. i.e. with tire recycling activities: 27,000 PM2.5, vs. without tire recycling activities: 127,000 PM2.5. Total amount of avoided emissions: 100,000 PM2.5 
  • Acidification (kg S02): reports emission of compounds that contribute to increased acidity in the air, either by droplet or particle. i.e. with tire recycling activities: 210,000 kg S02, vs. without tire recycling activities 850,000 kg S02. Total amount of avoided emissions: 640,000 kg S02 
  • Ozone depletion (kg CFC-11): describes the destruction of ozone in the stratosphere by highly persistent halogenated chemicals. i.e. with tire recycling activities: 53 kg CFC-11, vs. without tire recycling activities: 103 kg CFC-11. Total amount of avoided emissions: 50 CFC-11 
  • Eutrophication (kg N): reports environmental emissions of compounds containing nitrogen and phosphorus, which can destabilize aquatic ecosystems. i.e. with tire recycling activities: 22,000 kg N, v. without tire recycling activities: 45,000 kg N. Total amount of avoided emissions: 23,000 kg N 

The most effective products in reducing emissions 

Of the twenty-one TDPs created from used tires, seventeen of them resulted in a net reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Products that were most effective in reducing emissions in Ontario include: re-use of used tires, re-treading used tires, crumb rubber (including fibre and acrylic sand), rubberized asphalt, moulded rubber, moulded concrete and blast mats.

"With a regulatory target of 100 percent tire collection and recycling, Ontarians benefit from Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR); the reduction in emissions shown in this study are proof of that. The broader challenge for industry players is to improve our technologies and recycling systems, such that it's easy and practical to repurpose materials, instead of sourcing new materials. Ontario continues to move towards sustainable goals and we're excited to be a part of that - building better recycling systems, removing valuable materials from waste streams and putting them back into use for as long as possible," says Steve Meldrum, CEO of eTracks Tire Management Systems. 

Study background 

The study was developed by California-based Scope 3 Consulting LLC with the goal of establishing a boundary for analysis around end-of-life tire management systems that begin when used tires are first returned to a tire collection site (e.g. tire shops). The impacts of transporting the tires and processing them into a TDP are compared to the impacts of producing conventional non-tire-derived products.

Widely accepted industry data sources were employed for the task of assigning quantitative ecological impacts for the life cycle of each TDP and its respective displaced product, these impacts are calculated to the point at which the material is ready for delivery to its end-use. In Ontario, this is referred to as "approved use" and "recovery". It is the point at which a used tire has been made into a new product, such as, livestock mats, playground flooring, and/or rubberized asphalt and concrete. 

The circular economy and tire recycling 

The circular economy is an approach to utilizing our resources in such a way that we increase their life-span, reduce waste and innovate to lengthen the life cycle of the materials and products we use everyday. To achieve this requires the active participation of all of us: consumers, industry leaders and government - working together to develop strategies for increasing the sustainability of our systems. The circular economy, and models such as individual producer responsibility and extended producer responsibility look beyond resource use and efficiency alone and also consider the impact of resource use on greenhouse gas emissions. 

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2275 Upper Middle Road East Suite 401
Oakville, ON
CA, L6H 0C3


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