One of the most common questions customers ask is, “How are tires recycled?” Below, we dig into this subject of curiosity to provide some insights into the recycling process.


Methods of Tire Recycling

Methods used in recycling an automobile tire vary. These methods include:

  • Shredding and cryogenically grinding the tire, typically recycling it into a wide variety of products like playground surfaces, synthetic turf, road bank and athletic shoes
  • Chemically breaking down the tire for claim rubber tire manufacturing
  • Devulcanizing the used tire to remove sulphur and make the rubber firmer
  • Treating the rubber to create a fine powder through use of liquid nitrogen


Tire Recycling Processes

Besides the variety of methods used to recycle a tire, the process involves various steps. These steps include:


Tire collection is its own industry. Some companies focus on acquiring used ones from service stations, tire installers, individuals and others who sell, trade or remove them from vehicles. A collecting company then resells the tire to a processing plant that uses the rubber as part of other operations or recycling.

An independent collector also buys each tire they can from their area service stations and auto shops, typically earning about $3 per tire to do so. Independent resellers contact tire recyclers or retreaders to negotiate the sale. Recycling facilities typically charge a fee of about $1 per tire to take the materials off of the collectors’ or tire shop hands.

Steel Wire Removal

Tires contain a network of specially designed steel wires within the rubber. These wires provide better durability for an operable tire. But before the rubber can be recycled as part of some processes, the recycler must remove these wires. The steel is also recyclable after isolation from the rubber. It is typically used to make other steel products.

Whole Tire Processing

For whole tire processing, the tire must be cut into smaller pieces, typically two-inch squares. The resulting material is treated using a variety of chemicals that convert it into granules or fine powder. The processing is conducted mechanically or cryogenically.

Mechanical tire processing involves the use of a special machine that grinds the tire down into small pieces. The cryogenic process involves freezing the tire with liquid nitrogen. Equipment called a hammer mill then breaks the frozen rubber into smaller granules. A giant magnet is used to separate the rubber from its steel wires, while other fibres are isolated using air classifiers.

Rubber Screening

Rubber screening ensures the rubber is fully isolated from steel wire and other contaminants. This ensures that only the rubber is used for rubber product manufacturing or repurposing. This stage also involves sorting the rubber according to its piece size or other characteristics.

Rubber Cleaning

Before rubber is used for new purposes, it must go through a cleaning process. This is conducted using water and cleaning agents before the material’s packaging. Manufacturers that use recycled rubber purchase it according to these packages, whether in the form of powder, granules or other reclaimed fragments.

Other Types of Tire Collection Businesses

Besides tire collectors and recycling plants, there are other types of businesses involved in tire recycling. These include tire storage facilities and used tire resellers.

Tire storage involves leasing storage warehouses or other facilities to auto repair businesses that need somewhere to store their used rubber. This is a lucrative service to offer because storing old materials is not as easy for these shops as it sounds. Many local governments prohibit piles of scrap rubber for a variety of reasons. For example, one state in the U.S. prohibits stacked rubber within 10 feet of lot perimeters and other buildings because of the fire risk. Because auto repair shops have limited space and accumulate used these items daily, many need a storage and staging area for used tire pickup by collectors or recyclers.

Used tire resellers can sell each whole tire to retreading companies and other industries. They provide an important link in the chain toward recycling and environmental protection. This type of business booms each later summer and fall, when retreaders buy more and pay higher rates for whole ones.


Why recycle a used tire?

There are multiple dangers associated with keeping even one scrap tire. These dangers include:

  • Mosquito breeding and virus exposure because they collect water
  • Shelter for rodents, ticks, snakes and other vermin
  • Highly flammable and capable of burning for months, being very difficult to extinguish once burning
  • Frequently dumped in natural areas like woods and rivers because they take up so much disposal space
  • Accidents and injuries caused by rolling and falling wheels from scrap piles
  • Groundwater pollution with dangerous toxins from the rubber when stored on or near the ground
  • Methane gas trapping, particularly dangerous when dumped in water and causing the tire to float and the gas to rise to the surface

Because more than one tire is scrapped per person per year, these recyclable items continue to pile up. With most of these going into landfills, they take up valuable space. This is why proper handling and recycling are so critical for the environment and public safety.

Rubber is highly toxic when just discarded carelessly. Tires contribute to the ongoing deterioration of our environment. Thankfully, tire recycling is improving this situation. In fact, recycling has become so effective that most tire piles are appropriately handled within five years. About 90 percent of those discarded five years ago have already been recycled. The manufacturing world has embraced the reuse of tire materials for everything from rubberized asphalt and barrier covers to products for personal use and recreation. Popular products made from the recycled materials include playgrounds, swings, planters and sports fields.

Using recycled rubber makes the carbon footprint four to 20 times smaller than when using virgin materials like plastic resin. This makes it very important to recycle every automobile tire to provide materials for a wide range of products and aid in environmental protection. To recycle your used tire, contact your local tire shop.