Tires, big pollutants

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The tires they are a real attack on the environment. Their material (rubber) and their massive manufacture make them a environmental problem of the first order in the world, since they are not always reused, although it is also true that their recycling is becoming more common and imaginative.


Only in Spain around 300,000 tons of used tires are generated each year, but only a small part is recycled. Almost half of this enormous amount of waste is uncontrolled and another half accumulates in controlled landfills. A big difference compared to exemplary countries such as France, Germany and Austria, with an average of 60 percent recycling.

The norm, however, are much lower percentages. A bleak outlook in most countries, except for exceptions such as those mentioned, where more eco-responsible policies are applied and, above all, they manage to enforce them, since too often the ban on putting them into landfills is ignored. .

Often times, these residues are burned, sometimes in industrial furnaces, but it is clear that transferring the pollution to the atmosphere in the form of large amounts of toxic substances is creating another problem.

The solution is not to store them either. Its storage also ends up being synonymous with pollution due to chemical degradation Well, although they are not biodegradable, they do experience a dangerous partial decomposition that contaminates their own.

When it comes to recycling them, different techniques can be used, such as thermolysis, mechanical or cryogenic trituration, pyrolysis or incineration. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages when assessing a greater or lesser use of the raw material and also in terms of the different levels of toxicity associated with each of them.

As a compensatory measure at the environmental level, the tire information label, in force since 2012, is divided from A to G, reporting better or worse rolling resistance, braking capacity on wet ground and the level of decibels produced.

The objective is not to classify tires based on their more or less polluting material but on their efficiency when it comes to behaving, which means lower energy consumption and greater road safety. For example, the A label consumes 7.5 percent less fuel than the G, the last in the category, and also brakes considerably earlier.

And it is that fuel is not the only one responsible for the pollution of the means of transport, so it is well that thanks to the ecological labeling of the tires a more efficient consumption can be achieved.

Turn them into asphalt

Recycling them for conversion into asphalt is an idea that began to be put into practice in the 1960s in the United States and since then great strides have been made. In fact, there are many proposals in this regard, and studies and new initiatives continue to multiply around the world.

In addition to representing an interesting outlet for large quantities of used tires, their crushing to mix them with the asphalt helps to improve its features, while saving having to use a polymer that is also polluting.

Apart from the environmental benefits, on a practical level the result is a safer asphalt, with greater benefits, although it is also usually expensive compared to conventional. Specifically, a more viscous and elastic pavement, which deforms less, withstands the elements, extreme temperatures and water.

It also gains in durability and significantly reduces noise pollution, making noise pollution barriers unnecessary, thus avoiding its drawbacks. In this sense, if the benefits obtained are taken into account, including the green gesture, its higher price ends up not being so much.

In addition to this application for recycling tires, there are many other measures such as their use as artificial reefs (a failed experiment that is forcing them to be dismantled when their toxicity is discovered), their conversion into electrical energy or, for example, the reuse of some of their parts, among others metal and textile fibers.

Electric power and other uses

Obtaining electrical energy from tire waste is often consumed in the recycling plant itself. To obtain it, they are burned in a boiler and the heat released converts the water it contains into steam that moves the turbine and, in turn, a generator produces electricity. Its use requires further transformation.

His transformation into building materials or of many other materials that are used in the textile sector, among others, it is also helping to reduce its dramatic effects on the environment. We can find remains of camouflaged tires where we least expect it, from shoe soles to the manufacture of covers or roofs and brake cables to acoustic or vibration isolators, carpets, rubber slabs or for the manufacture of flexible floors for sports courts. or leisure areas.

Despite its almost infinite utilities, rubber It is still an environmental problem that has not been completely solved with initiatives of this type. They are interesting, and they achieve praiseworthy partial successes, but the hundreds of thousands of tons that are generated each year around the world can hardly be compensated for.

The alternatives to rubber, -summar of natural and synthetic rubber (or petroleum) -, capable of reinventing the wheel could be the new great invention of the century. Or why not, let's hope that scientists' strenuous attempts to find sustainable substitutes for natural rubber that can meet the needs of today's tire market will pay off.

If you want to read more articles similar to Tires, big pollutants, we recommend that you enter our Pollution category.

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