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    Tire Mountains as a Border Issue

    By Keith R | July 14, 2008

    Topics: Waste & Recycling | 1 Comment »

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    If you you’re not a waste specialist (“garbologist”) or waste nut (like me), then you might have missed this one or not understood its significance even if you did hear of it.

    End-of-life (EOL) tires — called “scrap tires” by industry but often referred to as “waste tires” by regulators — have bedeviled environmental authorities and waste managers in both the US and Mexico for decades. Too many EOL tires are landfilled or tossed into informal or illegal dumps — far more so in Mexico than the US, but the problem persists on both sides.

    It has been identified as a thorny issue for the border region between the two, where an estimated 3.5 million EOL tires have piled up. Mexico has already identified at least 42 illegal tire dumps among its Northern border states.

    Besides being an eyesore, the EOL tires can create environmental and health problems. They are excellent breeding grounds for disease-bearing vectors (mosquitoes, rats, etc.) and tire pile fires can release serious air pollution for weeks (months, if the pile on fire is large enough).

    It doesn’t have to be that way. The tire industry has been working for years to develop a long list of recycling options (see box) — as opposed to retreading, which is really reuse, or burning shredded tires as fuel (the industry euphemism is “tire-derived fuel” – TDF), which is energy recovery.

    The fact remains, though, that even industry figures show that around 2/3 of all scrap tires in the US end up as “land disposed,” burned as fuel or exported. Tire recycling in Mexico is minimal.

    Last September a conference bringing together states along both sides of the border decided that it was time to work together to tackle the issue. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (SEMARNAT) organized task forces to pull together what has since become known as the “Tire Initiative.” California and its Mexican neighbor Baja California have signed on, and are expected to be followed by three other US states and five more Mexican state. The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) has also agreed to help.

    This is big. Not only because of the scale of the problem that they have agreed to tackle jointly, or how this should give a big boost to tire recycling in Mexico. But also that they have gotten so many state governments in both countries directly involved. I hope that it is just the first of several such environmental cooperation accords that pull the states in as full partners.


    From the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA):

    U.S. and Mexico sign agreement to clean up 3.5 million waste tires along the Border States commit to recycling used tires into useable materials

    Federal and state agencies from the United States and Mexico met in San Diego at the International Tire Conference where California and Baja California signed the Tire Initiative Collaborative Effort to develop a market for waste tires and reduce tire piles along the border region.

    “Collaboration is an essential component to solving this binational problem,” said Ellie Kanipe of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). “That’s what this signing ceremony signifies – collaboration and commitment to work together to enact the Tire Initiative.”

    The Tire Initiative is a joint effort by the U.S. EPA, and the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT). Both have been working to have all ten Border States sign the Tire Initiative which originated from the Border Governors Conference in September 2007 when the states recognized a need to address waste tires along the border.

    This year’s Border Governor’s Conference: Building Green Economies, hosted by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, will address economic development and capitalization on green technologies, which will include addressing environmental challenges such as waste tires.

    The Tire Initiative outlines principles and actions to establish a sustainable scrap tire management program, the cleanup and prevention of new tire piles, and the education of stakeholders.

    California and Baja California are leading the way among the ten states to sign the Tire Initiative. Among those who signed include the Lic. Socrates Bastida Hernandez, Secretary of Environmental Protection of Baja California State Government and Ricardo Martinez, Assistant Secretary for Border Affairs for the California Environmental Protection Agency.

    Eight other Border States will also sign the agreement at a later date including Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

    Furthermore, the U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) signed a similar letter of understanding. Since 2000, RMA has been a leading source of information and has worked to develop tire markets along the border.

    “California is committed to effectively managing waste tires, reducing greenhouse gases and developing a stronger relationship with our neighbors in Mexico,” said CIWMB Board Chair Margo Reid Brown. “It’s encouraging to see that together we can prevent the generation of waste tire piles using cost-effective and environmentally sound solutions.”

    Although some Border States have created scrap tire management programs, there are millions of scrap tires still left in piles along the border and have created several health and environmental problems. Tire pile fires are a particular threat to California, as tire fires can burn for weeks, adversely affecting air quality and putting a significant strain on emergency and economic resources. Tire piles also serve as breeding ground for mosquitoes, rodents and other disease vectors. The West Nile virus, dengue fever and malaria have already been associated with tire piles.

    In California, an estimated 42 million waste tires are generated each year. The State currently diverts 75 percent of those tires from going to landfills or tire disposal sites. Waste tires are now being diverted to make Rubberized Asphalt Concrete (RAC) on roads; crumb rubber playgrounds; landscape maintenance; Alternative Daily Cover for landfills; and for engineering purposes.

    The U.S. EPA’s Border 2012 U.S.-Mexico Environmental Program protects the environment and public health for 10 states on both sides of the 2,000-mile border, including 26 U.S. tribes and seven groups of Mexican indigenous people. Border 2012 seeks to reduce pollution in water, air, and on land, reduce exposure to chemicals from accidental releases or terrorism, and improve environmental stewardship.

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    One Response to “Tire Mountains as a Border Issue”

    1. Kathlean Barr Says:

      I am the Executive Assistant at Cottonport Monofill. We are interested in getting more information on the tire clean up on the border of the US and Mexico.

      If you have more information or direction on who we could contact, that information would be greatly appreciated.


      Kathlean Barr
      Executive Assistant
      Cottonport Monofill/Ward Enterprises, LLC

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