Toxic tire dumps

April 24, 2023, 12:26 p.m.

Waste tires are a modern-day hazard that pose a significant challenge to the world.

The pile-up of tires in landfills is one of the main repercussions that comes from the challenge of tire recycling. Their hollow, rounded shape takes up valuable shape in landfills. Additionally, tires often don’t stay buried. They have the unfortunate habit of trapping gases like methane and then “bubbling up” through landfills, ripping through landfill liners in the process.

Just setting tires on the ground for an extended period is enough to eradicate beneficial soil bacteria. Flora and fauna depend on the nutrients these bacteria produce for nourishment. Without the bacteria, plant and animal species lose habitat and die off.

Therefore, the importance and necessity of tire recycling grows as quickly as the amount of tires piling up in landfills.

Billions of vehicle tires are removed and disposed of each year, but dealing with this rugged plastic, rubber and metal waste without harming the environment has proven to be an as-yet insurmountable global challenge.

With a rising population worldwide – especially among emerging middle classes in poorer countries gaining more access to vehicles – there comes an increase in vehicle use. As more miles are driven, more tires are replaced and more waste tires have to be dealt with.

Tires are made for durability and safety. Unfortunately, this is what makes them so difficult to reuse or recycle.

This global waste tire problem exists in the large amounts of landfill space taken up by tires worldwide. In Colorado, for example, there is a waste tire site with 60 million tires – 550,000 tons of material – dumped on the land. In addition, at least two-thirds of the billions of tires that become used around the world each year end up dumped in legal or illegal waste sites.

Waste tires piled up like this attract disease-carrying rodents, make the land they are dumped on useless, and emit harmful chemicals into the atmosphere as they begin to decompose slowly.

Tires are the perfect breeding ground for vector-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus. The open center of a tire collects rainwater as it sits, creating small, still water pools. These pools are the perfect place for mosquitos to lay their eggs. Storing tires in this fashion is akin to building a home for these pesky insects.

Waste tire dumps often catch fire due to their size and flammability of tire materials. Some waste tire fires can burn for up to nine months as millions of tires piled up slowly burn away.

Burning tires release carcinogenic and mutagenic toxins into the atmosphere, and so they can only be relatively safely incinerated using advanced air emission control systems. Unfortunately, such systems are expensive: they are inaccessible to waste management in developing countries and often not profitable enough in larger economies.

Used tires are often found discarded in natural environments, in rivers, and in oceans. For example, some researchers estimate that 10-28% of all micro-compound waste in the sea is from used tires.

Tire dumps are especially dangerous because tires, heating up and melting in the Sun, poison the air every day. Fires at such landfills also occur frequently and they can last for several months. Fires in tire dumps are much more difficult to extinguish, and a large fire in a tire dump is almost impossible to extinguish.

Today, several tens of billions of tires are scattered in landfills in various parts of the planet. Life next to such landfills cannot be comfortable. Such landfills often catch fire, forcing the authorities to evacuate the local population. The scale of evacuation usually reaches several tens of thousands of people.

Do you think this is a big problem? How do you think this problem should be solved?

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