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Breaking Ground: The Rise of Recycled Rubber

It wasn't all that long ago when it was nearly impossible to recycle rubber, which meant that a lot of rubber was ending up in landfills all over the world. Thankfully, times are changing, and new technologies are allowing companies to be able to recycle rubber for a variety of purposes. Unfortunately, even though all rubber is now recyclable, it doesn't mean that all rubber is being recycled. There are several reasons for this, including people and companies not taking rubber for recycling and the fact that not all recycling stations accept rubber, so much of it is still ending up in landfills. The technology is there, although there are some challenges when it comes to keeping the characteristics of the rubber, which we will discuss later in this article.

The Evolution of Recycling Rubber

Historically, recycled rubber was generally used to fuel power plants, as well as for civil engineering projects. Today, rubber recycling companies have developed many other outlets for old rubber. In fact, hundreds of companies in Canada and the US make numerous industrial products out of recycled rubber. Some of these markets are quite mature, while others have a huge potential for growth. The biggest initiatives in tire recycling can be found in Europe, but other areas of the world are stepping in to address the issues surrounding scrap rubber. A great example of this comes from China. In 2010, the Ministry of Industry created a strategic policy about the future of the tire industry in China.

This policy covered everything from investing in indigenous new rubber production to improving energy efficiency in tire manufacturing facilities to responsibly disposing of waste tires. Another good example is how the Russian Federation addressed the problem of waste rubber. It was noted that there are little to no legal regulations for the handling of these waste materials. This report was published in 2012, looked at what is needed to recycle waste tires, as well as recycling other components from tires that are not made of rubber.

In the US, retreading plays a significant role in rubber recycling. By 2011, there were 830 retreading plants in the US, which produced more than 15 million retreats each year, which are commonly used in the truck industry, as well as for emergency vehicles and the aircraft industry. The sustainability of this market is due to the many benefits of tire recycling, including the reduction of the cost of solid waste disposal, as well as conserving natural resources.

In Canada, a tire surcharge is added to every tire sold, which goes towards recycling costs. The recycled tires are used to create many new products, including running tracks and even roofing shingles.

There are many benefits to recycling tires. For many, the fact that a retreaded tire costs about a quarter of the price of a brand new tire is a huge selling point for consumers. The price isn't the only selling point though. Other selling points include the reduction of the cost of solid waste disposal as well as the conservation of natural resources.

Protecting the Environment, One Tire at a Time

In most cases, rubber that is recycled comes from old tires. For instance, in British Columbia, Liberty Tire is leading the way in rubber recycling. Liberty Tire has more than 50 facilities across North America, including one on Vancouver Island, and the rubber that is recycled is used to create a wide variety of products that include everything from quality crumb rubber to rubberized asphalt to running track surfaces and more.

Liberty Tire cares about the environment, and their approach involves reclaiming tires from landfills, recycling all parts of the tires, reusing scrap tires and re-selling those that can still be used, and re-purposing downgraded tires to turn them into products that are both safe and eco-friendly. More than 150 dump sites have been remediated, which has led to more than four billion pounds of rubber being kept out of landfills.

How Recyclable is Rubber?

Before we answer this question, we need to take a moment to talk about how rubber is recycled. Basically, rubber products that are no longer usable due to the fact that they are damaged or very worn are recycled for new use. This keeps the old rubber from sitting in landfills, and believe it or not, it also helps to save energy.

Reclaiming and re-purposing rubber takes much less energy than it does to produce new rubber. So, not only does recycling keep rubber out of the landfills, it is also helping to reduce pollution in the environment. In addition to these benefits, recycling rubber also protects the environment because less natural rubber is being used, allowing the trees to grow and flourish. This will allow for the creation of new rubber while old rubber is being recycled and re-purposed.

How Rubber is Recycled

So, how is recycled rubber measured? First, the rubber is measured in PTE's or passenger tire equivalent. So, one PTE would be the same amount of rubber that you would find on a typical car tire. In 2022 alone, Liberty Tire recycled 5.5 million PTE's.

There are four steps involved in the process of recycling rubber tires. First, the tire is shredded. Then, the shredded material goes through a granulating process in order to break it down into even smaller pieces. The steel is then removed through a magnetic separation process, with screens and sifters removing these fibers. Finally, the material is refined even further, either into small granules or to meet certain specifications.

Innovations in Rubber Recycling

As the need for new, sustainable end-use markets grows, tire recycling innovations are continuing to advance. Some of the most recent tire recycling innovations around the globe include the following.

  • Genan – This company recycles all types of tires from all types of vehicles using an extremely technological process. This process involves the separation of the tires back to their original elements, which are rubber, textile fibers, and steel. The end result is about 75 percent rubber powder and rubber granulate, 15 percent steel, and 10 percent textile fibers.

  • Green Distillation Technologies (GDT) – This Australian tire recycler has partnered with CarbonScape out of New Zealand. Together they take the carbon that is created in the tire recycling process and turn it into graphite.

  • Wastefront – Here is a rubber recycling company that turns old tires into other products, such as liquid hydrocarbons and carbon black. These commodities can then be used in other processes, including the manufacturing of alternative fuel and the production of ground rubber.

  • ELDAN Recycling A/S – In Denmark, ELDAN has created a system that detects foreign objects in shredded tires. This helps to lower the risk of breakdowns as well as downtime.

  • HYPERTYM – This is an integrated mobile unit that reduces the mining and other oversized tires by as much as 63 percent, using a unique process called Pyrum-Thermolysis.

  • RubberJet Valley – This company specializes in producing engineered raw materials. These are polymers that are called RubberJet Powder and RubberJet Granules, and they can be used to replace raw materials such as natural rubber for many applications, including the manufacturing of new tires.

Conclusion: Challenges Within the Rubber Recycling Industry

So, we know that most of the rubber that is used in the rubber recycling industry is from tires that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. We also know that the rubber recycling industry creates new products from waste rubber. But, there are some challenges that go along with this, because rubber is difficult to recycle for several reasons.

First, we need to consider the durability of the material. Then there is the sheer volume of waste rubber all over the world. Finally, we need to look at the hazards that come with the storage and handling of waste rubber, which can be great.

Technology used to eliminate waste rubber is a relatively new thing, and for many decades we saw huge rubber stockpiles. With these stockpiles came a great deal of risks, including economic and health risks, not to mention the flammability of waste rubber.

Efforts have been made globally to create rubber recycling programs that are both effective and efficient, and there is a huge potential for growth within this industry.

Newer technologies, including devulcanization and pyrolysis have made it much easier to recycle waste rubber, and these technologies are being used by companies all over the world.

The biggest challenge in rubber recycling is maintaining the characteristics of the rubber throughout the devulcanization process. This is because the process involves toxic chemicals and high temperatures. Also, because there is so much rubber waste globally, it can be difficult to manage this waste rubber, especially when it is in the form of old tires.

As mentioned earlier, this poses a great risk of fire. Thankfully, not only does recycling rubber reduce these problems significantly, it also allows us to produce new materials that have properties not found in natural rubbers.



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