Tires, while typically black, round and wrapped around a rim, are all drastically different. Some are for street, some are for snow, and some are due for a serious rotation. But one thing they all have in common is that they’re incredibly difficult to make, and, without proper regulation, their production can put a tremendous strain on our environment. That’s why tire and car manufacturers all around the world are partnering up to drive a new initiative committed to the producing and recycling of green and environmentally-friendly tires. Because together, we can keep this planet going and growing.
So, first things first: what does “environmentally-friendly” mean it terms of tires? Basically, anything that doesn’t harm the environment. Seems pretty obvious, right? Well, from a manufacturing standpoint, when working with the materials and processes required to create something as complex as a tire, it gets pretty complicated. The eco-friendliness of a tire is dependent upon three things: the effect of the tire on the manufacturing process, the impact of the tire during its life and its disposal process afterward.
Tire manufacturing is precisely as complicated as one might think. Several ingredients, such as rubber, carbon black, reinforcing fibers, rubber compounding agents and more, have to be melted down and mixed under tremendous pressure to get the rubbery tire texture required to ride the road. The products, and the chemicals therein, become very difficult to breakdown afterward, which is why companies have started creating synthetic rubber using plant-derived materials rather than petroleum products. Plants like dandelion roots, Guayule and the accurately named “rubber tree” are quickly becoming go-to substitutes in the tire production process because of their efficiency during and after the tire’s life.
During a tire’s life, their efficiency is measured by “roll resistance.” Roll resistance is the energy a tire consumes while, you guessed it, rolling. The lower the rolling resistance, the less energy (and emissions) required to move your car. Manufacturers are trying to reduce the resistance, so they can reduce the existence of CO2 emissions in the environment. According to a U.S National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study in 2009, if 2% of the replacement tires reduced their rolling resistance by 5%, there would be 7.9 million gallons of fuel and 76,000 metric tons of CO2 saved annually.
Now that we’ve covered during a tire’s life, it’s time to talk about after a tire’s life. After a tire has run its course, it is incredibly difficult to recycle. That’s due to vulcanization. Vulcanization is the process of heating and hardening rubber to make tires. Which, despite sounding fantastically futuristic, is actually a very old process discovered back in the 1800s. It’s the only way to break down the tire ingredients and make them malleable enough to be molded. One problem: vulcanization makes it virtually impossible to completely recycle used tires and use them to make new ones. That’s why the auto industry is constantly on the lookout for better ways to produce tires and better our environment. The most recent stride comes from General Motors (GM) who pledges to only buy sustainable natural rubber for the 49 million tires it purchases each year. They plan to only use rubber that does not contribute to deforestation and helps small rubber farmers grow their businesses, while reducing the tire’s effect on the environment during the recycling process.
As one of the first collision repair shops to use water-based paints for their eco-friendly effects on the environment, we love to see these companies getting involved and doing what they can to protect our planet. After all, if we want to restore the rhythm of our planet’s life, we have to start from the ground up.