Can Tires Be Recycled? Environmentally Responsible Ways to Dispose of Old Tires

Crumb rubber at a tire recycling facility
Crumb rubber at a tire recycling facility. Bloomberg Creative Photos / Getty Images

Tires are one of the most frequently recycled products in the United States. When tires become unsuitable for use on vehicles due to damage or wear, they are typically recycled into ground rubber, asphalt additives, and even fuel.

High-quality tires are known for their durability and strength, so recycling often comes in the form of grinding or burning.

Treehugger Tip

Before disposing of your old bike, car, or truck tires, check to see if they can be retreaded or repaired. These processes involve inspecting the tires, so you’ll have to take them to an auto repair shop first. By prolonging the life of your tires, you’ll save them from being dumped and save some money in the process.

How to Recycle Tires

If you're ready to replace the tires in your vehicle you have a couple of options.

Start by calling your local recycling service. Tires may be picked up curbside as part of bulk trash collection days or during collection events sponsored by your local government.

Ask your tire vendor or auto shop for recycling options. You may have to pay a disposal charge, but oftentimes the cost of your new tires includes a recycling fee.

Most tire manufacturers also offer free recycling programs, so you should be able to take your old tires to their stores for recycling. For example, Bridgestone has the Tires4ward program, which also helps to collect tires during community cleanup events; tire giant Michelin is building its own tire recycling plant; and Firestone has a Spent Tire Initiative that promises to recycle a tire for each tire sold.

Note that tires are not accepted in most landfills. In fact, 39 states specifically ban whole tires from landfills and 13 states won't even allow shredded tires in such facilities, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturer's Association.

Tire Recycling Process

Recycling worker sorting scrap tires

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Today’s tires are made from a combination of natural rubber, synthetic polymers, steel, textiles (such as rayon, polyester, and nylon), and fillers to reinforce the rubber.

As part of the recycling process, the scrap tire material may be used to produce tire-derived fuel (36.8%), ground rubber (24.4%), in civil engineering projects (5.1%) or other uses (9.7%). An estimated 14.3% of old tires end up in a landfill, according to the U.S. Tire Manufacturer's Association.

In California, for example, there are several cement kilns that accept whole tires to burn as fuel, but recycling companies will also shred tires into tiny pieces to sell to cement kilns across the state or mills and industrial boilers overseas.

An EPA article from 2016 reported that tires produced the same amount of energy as oil and 25% more energy than coal; additionally, ash residues produced from the tire-derived fuel process may contain a lower heavy metals content and result in lower nitrogen oxide emissions compared to some coals. Since tires are also made up of materials like steel, fiber, and nylon, it is possible to extract and clean these materials for use in other products.

Another common recycling method for old tires is grinding them up into ground rubber or smaller crumb rubber for use in playgrounds or arena surfacing, though studies have found that the latter could contain potentially toxic substances.

Scrap tires can also be ground and mixed with asphalt to pave roads or use in landslide repair and embankments.

Scientists and researchers are coming out with new recycling methods all the time. As recently as 2020, a team of chemists at McMaster University discovered a way to break down the rubber used in car tires to turn them into new ones. This innovative method, which consists of dissolving the polymeric oils by separating the sulfur-to-sulfur bond in the tires, is a promising step for the future of recycling.

Ways to Reuse Tires

Close-Up Of Flower Pots
Valentina Bassi / EyeEm / Getty Images

Because of their durability, tires offer a perfect material for DIY crafts and repurposing projects, for example:

  • Decorate your old tire with nontoxic paint and turn it into a flower planter.
  • If you have a sturdy tree in the yard, grab a rope or chain and turn your tire into a classic tire swing (tip: drill holes into the bottom of the tire to prevent rainwater buildup).
  • Make a high-functioning mosquito trap.
  • Make indoor furniture with old tires, like this rustic rope ottoman.