Scrap Tire Market Ups and Downs

USTMA’s latest scrap tire management summary shows scrap tire markets and disposition still a mixed bag of progress and setback

Recycling scrap tires into crumb rubber consumed about 28 percent of scrap tires in total in 2021, overtaking tire derived fuel, the top market since 1990 when the industry began reporting on what happens to scrap tires in the U.S.

Eagle International

“This change in ground rubber markets is historic,” John Sheerin , Director End of Life Tire Programs, U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) said.  Since our first scrap tire management report in 1990, tire derived fuel has been the leading market for scrap tires. “The growth is across the board for crumb rubber”, he said.

Loose landscaping and playground mulch grew by 54 percent.  Home and facility improvement activities inspired by Covid shutdowns are in part responsible for this boom, Sheerin said.

After several years of no growth sports surfaces including synthetic turf fields and running tracks this market grew 35 percent since 2019. Rubber Modified Asphalt consumed slightly less crumb rubber in 2021 than in 2019, the report said,  citing Covid interruptions to construction funding and market development impeding the growth of this promising market. The smallest ground rubber sector, fine ground rubber used in new tires, coating, sealants, and exports consumed another 79 thousand tons of scrap tires.

The 2021 US Scrap Tire Management Report Summary describes the disposition of passenger and truck tires in the United States. It was prepared by the USTMA with assistance from its partners including all 50 states, over 40 scrap tire recyclers, numerous tire derived material consumers, industry experts and related associations.

The 2021 report marks another significant and historic change for the scrap tire management and recycling industry.   For the 2021 report the Passenger Tire Equivalent for a passenger and light truck tire was increased to 25 pounds to reflect the increase in that type of tire over the last decade.

“This adjustment may have lowered the beneficial end use rate however we believe based on industry data that it is more reflective of current tire sizes than the smaller tires of the past,” Sheerin said.

This increase in tire weight is representative of a shift in the style of tires placed on vehicles and consumer purchasing trends for SUVs and light trucks and follows similar increases adopted by industry based on a field study of scrap tires in the U.S., conducted by the Environmental Advisory Council of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), in which scrap tires in four states were counted and the raw material generated, weighed.

Tire derived fuel (TDF) is now the second largest market for scrap tires, decreasing 15 percent since 2019. TDF consumed about 28 percent of scrap tires in total. Cement kilns saw a reduction of over 16 percent since 2019. Covid disruptions to construction and the demand for cement account for this, the report said.

In contrast, pulp and paper mills saw an increase of 8.8 percent since 2019. “We are now seeing strengthening demand for TDF due to increased energy prices. The number of cement kiln and pulp and paper mills using TDF has remained relatively constant and these variations in consumption reflect more or less use by the same set of facilities, “ Sheerin said.

Electric and industrial utility boilers have seen a continuing decrease of nearly 50 percent since 2019. As coal fired plants shut down and emission and discharge limits tighten up this sector becomes smaller. Movement away from solid fuels does not bode well for this sector, the report posited.

Exports of scrap tires as tire derived fuel account for just 1.7 percent  of generation, decreasing by over one-third since 2019. “ Exports change quickly based on energy pricing and we have already seen increasing export demand since 2021, “ Sheerin said.  However, exports are a relatively small sector  and the US manages most of its scrap tires here at home.

One market that didn’t report changes was electric arc furnaces which consume just over 1 percent of scrap tires, and, while cement and pulp & paper markets have stabilized, a recovery in electric and industrial utility boilers is not anticipated, Sheerin said.

Future Greenhouse Gas regulations could challenge demand for TDF at pulp & paper mills, but could also possibly enhance use at cement kilns as a result of the 24 percent biogenic content of scrap tires.

Other markets that increased include the use of tire derived aggregate (TDA) in civil engineering applications which consumed about 6 percent of scrap tires in 2021.  A large variety of smaller markets that were combined for this report consumed 6 percent of scrap tires and included agricultural uses, baled tires with markets, punched and stamped products, pyrolysis, and others. Land reclamation, mixing shredded tires with soil to reclaim mining sites for example, consumed about 1 percent of scrap tires.

In total markets consumed 71 percent of scrap tires in 2021, a decrease from about 76 percent in 2019. This is primarily because generation increased almost 13 percent as markets increased almost 6 percent, Sheerin said.
“We expect to see tire derived fuel markets continue to fluctuate with energy pricing and climate and environmental policies.

Ground rubber markets should continue to expand in molded and extruded products including in the automotive sector and in mulch, though perhaps more slowly than during the recent growth spurt, “ he said.

With rubber modified asphalt and tire derived aggregate poised for expansion with new infrastructure and funding opportunities, the association supports the establishment of a Center for Excellence to address rubber modified asphalt knowledge gaps in a comprehensive fashion and would like to see an EPA portal created to collect consistent, accurate, real time recycling data.

Clearly, though, markets for scrap tire recycling have not been keeping pace with increasing annual generation. Strong markets are required to assure elimination of stockpiles and miscellaneous illegal dumping. It will take all stakeholders to grow markets.

In its continuing commitment to help grow scrap tire markets, USTMA is working with all  stakeholders in the value chain to educate, network and collaborate. This includes the 9th Scrap Tire Recycling Conference planned for the first half of 2024, and our continuing series of workshops on Rubber Modified Asphalt  with one scheduled for the northeast U.S. December 8, 2022 and the Southeast December 13, Sheerin said.

USTMA is also supporting academic and technical research to help advance markets including the Rubber Modified Asphalt State of Knowledge Report in 2021 and a Tire Derived Aggregate State of Knowledge Report scheduled for this Fall.

Additionally, we have retained experts for a series of studies examining tires and tire derived materials,” Sheerin said.

Lastly, USTMA supports robust state programs to manage annual generation. These programs have been key to building a sound, managed, working  scrap tire infrastructure in the U.S., and we support reasonable fees to operate state scrap tire programs and call for state scrap tire programs to use scrap tire fee monies for scrap tire purposes especially market development.

© Scrap Tire News, November 2022