Tire recycling, key to the environment

Tires are essential parts for passenger cars, trucks and other vehicles to circulate. However, when these tires go out of use they become an environmental problem. Fortunately, there are currently many options with which to take advantage of these tires and avoid the pollution they generate.


End of life tires are a problem for all of society. The consumption of these auto parts is considerably high, especially in vehicles such as trucks, buses and other public service vehicles, which require frequent changes. These changes, together with those made by passenger car users, add up to a total of nearly 300,000 tons of used tires per year, which must be recycled and properly treated so that they do not become an environmental problem. Especially since there are not a few users who only care about buying the best car tires , without worrying about what happens to their old tires.


The Signus system

In order to recycle end-of-life tires, in Spain what is known as a comprehensive management system has been established. This system is called Signus and it is responsible for collecting and ensuring the proper treatment of these end-of-life tires in an environmentally responsible manner. A task that is not altruistic, but we all finance when buying new tires through a fee, which serves to cover the costs of the system. As a reference, each new passenger tire pays a rate of 1.18 euros while a truck tire pays 8.80 euros.

In exchange for this fee, this manager takes care of the collection and treatment of these end-of-life tires. A process that is paid both with the aforementioned rates and with the sale of those by-products obtained from the tire recycling process. An aspect in which technology continues to advance, in order to achieve better results and benefits. The good news is that the cost of these fees has been falling for a couple of years, which shows that the system is working better and better, both in its collection capacity and in the subsequent uses it obtains from the by-products it generates.




What are used tires for?

As proof of the increasing versatility of this tire recycling process, we can speak of two different phases. One of them is the reuse of the used product. In this process, tires that, due to their characteristics, can continue to be used are cleaned and valued. This creates a second-hand market for those tires that still have a useful life as well as the generation of bases for retreaded tires. This process recovers the carcass of the tire, previously treated, to which it adds a new tread to make a new tire, although using only 25% of the resources that the traditional process would need.

Regarding those tires that can no longer be used, they are transferred to transformation plants in which their main components (steel, rubber and textile fibers) are separated for subsequent use.

The most versatile asset in this mixture is rubber, which can be used for various applications. Among them we have the creation of plates of this material, which can be found in playgrounds and other facilities. A material similar to that used for the manufacture of sports courts, the construction of artificial turf fields or equestrian tracks, among other uses. And if that weren’t enough, this material is also used to cover roofs or to make other products such as slippers.

Another common application for used rubber is in the construction sector. This rubber can be used in the asphalting of streets and highways, thus reducing the need to resort to tar and improving the properties of the final finish, which results in savings in maintenance costs. Something similar happens with its applications as an acoustic screen, to reduce noise, or for its use in water distribution tasks, in which the tires serve as lining for rafts. They are also useful for creating safer guardrails for motorcyclists or even for making parts directly out of rubber, which would previously be made from other, more polluting materials.

Finally, it is necessary to talk about energy. End of life tires can be used as a substitute fuel for other fossil fuels such as coal or oil. In these uses, these tire remains are used to obtain electrical energy without the need for major changes in the product plants. In addition, this system generates less harmful fumes than those of said fossil fuels as well as a lower amount of final waste related to said combustion.




There is much to do

Unfortunately, despite all these good ideas, many of those tires end up in uncontrolled landfills and become an environmental and even safety problem. As proof of this, it is enough to recall the fire in what was then the largest used tire warehouse in Europe, located in Seseña, between Madrid and Toledo. This illegal warehouse accumulated close to 100,000 tons of end-of-life tires, of which some 88,000 tons burned during the 24 days that the fire lasted, with the consequent safety risk for residents and a serious damage to the environment.

Something that can be repeated in one of the many deposits of tires out of use that are made anywhere and without any control. It is enough to pass through the vicinity of some industrial estates, on the outskirts of cities or even take a look at the cliffs of beaches, in forests and fields to find deposits of these tires.

The fact is that there are not a few workshops and professionals that operate outside the Signus circuit that we have mentioned, despite being mandatory. This generates a considerable amount of illegal tires, as far as their subsequent treatment is concerned, which end up lying anywhere. A problem that makes clear the need for greater control and firmness on the part of administrations when dealing with these environmental problems and punishing those responsible.



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