With tires being recycled into more than 110 products, more and more scrap rubber is kept out of landfills each year, reports the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling tires is so important, and easy, that as of 2003 11 states have banned tires from landfills. Nearly anything made from rubber can be made from recycled tires -- the list ranges from shoes to traffic cones. Recycled tires may even run the electricity in your home or school, unbeknownst to you.
According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, tire-derived fuel is the largest market for scrap tires in the United States. In 2009, more than 2 million tons of tires were turned into fuel. The EPA maintains that tires are a quality source of fuel because they produce an equivalent amount of energy as oil and are actually 25 percent more efficient than coal. Emissions from tire-derived fuels are also lower than emissions from coal. You won’t find tire-derived fuel at your local gas station, however -- the vast majority goes to powering cement kilns and pulp and paper plants.
The use of recycled tires as ground rubber has increased recently, tripling from around 500,000 tons in 2005 to nearly 1.5 million tons in 2009. According to the EPA, ground rubber is mostly used for mulch in gardens and other landscaping projects, but it is increasingly being used as artificial turf for athletic arenas. In addition, the use of ground rubber has risen for children’s playgrounds as a way to cushion falls.
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Some uses for recycled tires require large-scale production lines, but you can use recycled tires for projects at home. Tire swings are a familiar favorite, but the EPA says they are now more than a tire tied to a rope -- people are turning them into art. If you live in an urban area or move frequently, you can use tires to plant portable gardens. Use a board to cover the hole on the bottom, making sure to drill smaller holes to allow drainage, and fill the rest of the tire with soil and seeds.
Old tires can be turned into rubberized asphalt and used to construct new highways or improve existing roads. A 2002 study by the Solid Waste Association of North America found that roads with rubberized asphalt were cheaper over the long term than roads built from traditional materials. According to the EPA, 12 million old tires are turned into highway material each year. In addition to creating a smooth surface to drive on, whole recycled tires can help prevent roadway fatalities when used as highway crash barriers.