Terry Leveille

— Since vulcanized tires were invented more than a century ago, the common complaint is what happens to a tire once it has served its useful life. Billions of old tires are buried in landfills throughout the world and will languish there for thousands of years because they do not biodegrade. In California, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several decades, we are on the threshold of solving the so-called “waste” tire problem.

Armed with $35 million annually from a special fee on the sale of every new tire in the state, California now diverts close to 90 percent of its old tires from landfills and is more than halfway toward reaching a state goal of recycling 75 percent of California-generated waste tires. “Recycling” tires means not burying them, not burning them for fuel, and not exporting them, but turning them into practical and value-added products.

Most of that success is the result of a waste tire grant program offered to California cities, counties, and school and park districts by CalRecycle, the state’s recycling department. Over the past dozen years the program has provided monetary grants to help offset the slightly higher initial cost of such popular products as rubberized asphalt, crumb rubber infill in synthetic turf, rubberized running tracks, and tire-derived “aggregate” that is used in lieu of gravel.

In San Diego County, there are approximately 150 fields with crumb rubber infill, and its cities, parks, and schools have received over $1 million in tire grants for them and such things as playground covers, rubber mulch, and running tracks made from processed waste tires.

CalRecycle has also provided cities in San Diego County with a whopping $5.15 million in tire grant funds to help pay for the cost of 27 rubberized asphalt concrete (RAC) projects. From those projects, transportation officials, public works directors, and the public get to test and experience the difference between RAC and conventional asphalt.

Better Roads

RAC not only recycles more than 2,000 waste tires per mile, but anyone who drives on roads resurfaced with it quickly finds that it is smoother, darker, and quieter than conventional asphalt. It is also safer, for the crumb rubber mixed with asphalt makes for a more porous road, reducing the risk of skidding or hydroplaning. Ultimately, RAC saves Caltrans and local government money by lasting twice as long as asphalt and requires fewer sound walls alongside its roadways because of the product’s decibel-lowering qualities.

However, short-sighted legislation is threatening to eliminate the popular tire grants. AB 2908 (Berman, D-Palo Alto) would institute a costly and controversial “incentive” program that could require customers to pay an additional dollar on top of the current $1.75 tire fee and funnel money not to the users of a recycled tire product but to private contractors and product manufacturers.

Curiously, the legislation is sponsored by Californians Against Waste (CAW), an otherwise strong advocate of recycling such products as glass, plastic, and cardboard.

Additional Bureaucracy

While CAW contends that it only wants to increase the recycling rate of tires, its proposed program with CalRecycle will take years to start up, from hiring and training additional staff, developing “incentive” regulations, and undertaking a massive outreach campaign to explain the program to hundreds of tire product manufacturers and private contractors.

Indeed, the department will also need to inform those who currently are eligible to apply for tire grants, namely the 58 counties, 482 cities, and thousands of school and park districts.

AB 2908 even limits the number of tire recycling products that are eligible to receive funding by denying monetary incentives for the tire rubber used in synthetic turf or on playgrounds.

How such a complicated and difficult program will “possibly” increase the California tire recycling rate is truly suspect. It is also the reason why a broad coalition of tire recyclers, tire processors, and tire dealers are unified in opposing AB 2908.

Local Limits Harmful

This opposition, which traditionally supports CAW-sponsored “recycling” legislation, argues that CalRecycle can more easily reach the tire recycling goal of 75 percent by simply expanding its current tire grant program. They note that the current tire grant program limits the number of times a city, county, or school district can apply for assistance. Why, they ask, doesn’t CalRecycle let locals apply for more projects under the program?

Furthermore, they point to the ongoing surplus in the Tire Fund — the money collected from the tire fee — that during the past dozen years has ranged from $40 million to nearly $100 million annually. Why, tire recyclers ask, can’t that money be used to expand the tire grant programs and market them to locals who may not be familiar with the tire products?

Bringing in more local governments to sample tire-derived products like RAC through an expanded grant program would not only be more efficient than starting up an untried and controversial “incentive” program, but it would also be significantly cheaper for California tire customers who ultimately bear the cost of tire recycling through the fee they pay whenever they buy

a tire.

Terry Leveille is president of

consulting firm TL & Associates.