Scrap tire piles aren’t just unsightly; they’re dangerous, bad for the environment and costly to remove. A proposal from US State House Speaker Rick Johnson could go a long way toward cleaning up the blight they create. Johnson’s last-minute addition to the bill proposed a surcharge of 75 cents on every new tire purchased in Michigan. One-third of the money would have gone toward scrap-tire removal; two-thirds into grants for companies developing alternative uses for the tires.
Legislators also should consider increasing the surcharge -- perhaps to US$2 or more per tyre -- with at least half of the money going directly for clean-up. The additional funds would boost the approximately US$3.5m collected annually for clean-up, which comes from a US$1.50 fee charged to every vehicle transfer.
Last year, Michigan state spent US$1.2m to remove hundreds of thousands of abandoned tyres in Newaygo County, and the job isn’t even finished. The man who had "built" the rubber mountain died in the mid-1990s, leaving the mess for the state. Another pile of about 4 million tyres near US 131 in Allegan County remains untouched while the state wages a drawn-out legal battle over who should clean it up. The removal cost was estimated at US$3m more than a year ago.
In addition to clean-up, some of the money should go into grants for businesses and individuals who are seeking new uses for recycled tyres. More markets for scrap rubber are likely to encourage recycling. Currently, most scrap rubber is shredded and burned to fuel power plants, cement kilns and paper factories. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is working to shrink the piles but the job continues to be a big one. The DEQ has removed about 13 million scrap tyres since 1991, but an estimated 24 million remain. That’s a lot of rubber.