Wasted rubber hits the highway
Local companies make used up tires useful again
By: Susan Jones
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 06:00 am
Alberta Recycling likes to put numbers on things and in themselves, those figures tell a 5.3 million tires recycled in 2012, representing an 82 per cent recovery rate for all tires sold in this province.
An even bigger number is the total of 78 million tires of all varieties that have been recycled since 1992.
But it’s not until you stand at Eco-Flex in Legal and watch a small mountain of tires dwindling and being transformed into useful things like rubber rig mats, curb ramps, yard tiles, garden mulch and sidewalk blocks, that you really begin to comprehend the magnitude and the potential usefulness of all that rubber.
“We use 2.5 million pounds of tire crumb per month,” said Alan Champagne, owner of Eco-flex and Champagne Edition.
That equates to more than 170,000 worn out tires.
Legal is the home of two tire recycling companies. Eco-Flex manufactures products out of repurposed rubber and its sister-company, Liberty Tire Recycling, actually grinds up the tires and shreds them.
Re-using tires is a relatively new phenomenon and Alberta pioneered much of the research to find new ways to use the things. A portion of the $4.50 tax for each tire goes to fund research and to support the program.
“Tires were a huge problem in landfills. Tires trap methane gas. They are traps for mosquitoes and they are very flammable,” said Scott Mydan, business development manager at Eco-Flex.
It took an enormous 1990 fire in a landfill in Hagersville, Ont. to change the way Albertans handle their old tires, said Elizabeth Gray, a communications spokesperson for Alberta Recycling.
Twelve to 14 million tires burned in the landfill, spewing noxious gases into the air for 17 days. The townspeople had to be evacuated and the disaster was so terrifying that, in Alberta, Premier Ralph Klein stepped in to take action.
“Ralph Klein said, ‘We cannot have that happen in Alberta,’” Champagne recalled, adding that he served on the first committee to determine what to do with tires.
“In Alberta we set up one of the best programs in the country and now other programs in other places are modelled on it,” he said.
Champagne explained that his own start in the tire recycling business came about as an accident.
“Twenty-two years ago I had a business manufacturing tarps. A friend, a dairyman, asked me to come up with something like a mattress for dairy cows. Within three years we were taking every piece of rubber crumb we could get and making mats. That allowed us to diversify and build our own plant,” he said.
These days, his biggest sellers are rig mats.
The mats are 14 feet by 7.5 feet by 4.5 inches thick and 140 tires go into each one, said Mydan.
In addition to Eco-flex and Liberty Tire Recycling there are two other recycling businesses in the province. Alberta Environmental Rubber Products sells rubber crumb directly to manufacturers. Cutting Edge Recycling shreds tires used as drainage material in landfills.
“Alberta Recycling is the administrative organization that manages the programs. When people buy new tires, they pay a fee and that is remitted by the store to us. Then tires are picked up by the recyclers … so for example, when the green bin at your tire store is full, the recyclers will come get it and they are paid an incentive to get those tires,” Gray said.
That incentive pay amounts to $55 per tonne of tires picked up within 100 kilometres of Edmonton or Calgary, she said.
In addition, the program provides grants to communities wishing to use the rubber in building such things as playgrounds and football fields.
There is a $4 tax for tires from cars, light trucks, small commercial vehicles and all-terrain vehicles. The tax for larger truck tires such as commercial freight trucks and passenger buses is $9 and the tax on tires from big machinery used in mining, forestry and construction ranges from $40 to $200 depending on the rim size.
The research is evolving and some of the tax funds a program that is using recycled tires in road construction.
“They are testing the use of it in road construction on the east arm of the Anthony Henday,” Gray said.
For his part, Champagne is proud of the progress he’s seen throughout the province.
“There are no stockpiles of tires anymore in Alberta,” said Champagne. “We’re taking something that people used to discard. We’re creating jobs and the product we make is also recyclable. The use of the rubber is indefinite and it can be reused.”