Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Backyard Tire Fire? Creative Waste Management Solution for Waste Tires by Local Company

The US generates approximately 290 million scrap tires each year. Fortunately, markets now exist for 80.4% of these scrap tires-up from 17% in 1990. These markets—both recycling and beneficial use—continue to grow but around 10% of tires disposed annually still end up in landfills or illegally dumped...which brings me to the reason for writing this post. 
It is sort of funny how things work when you own a vacant lot. In addition, to the annual warnings from Forestry Division that they now have the right to fine and cut without warning, you also get to look forward to calls from interested urban farmers; inquires from neighbors about our future plans - you also end up with trash and apparently tires.

Now I live very close to our vacant lot in the 3000 Block of Minnesota but I will admit that it isn't part of my daily routine to drive by. Lesson learned. Tires appear out of nowhere and fast. Here is what happens...first, you get a notice of violation from the Department of Health for "unlawful tire accumulation" and then the emails from neighbors you know, a call from the new Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia and even a text message asking me what we were doing with 24 tires on a vacant lot in the Tower Grove East neighborhood. Well, I don't know. Why is there 24 tires on our vacant lot? 

My only clue was that in the past, a community organization had created some raised beds using old tires and while they are buried and far from the property line...I'm guessing some local tire shop could somehow justify their illegal dumping as "giving back" to the community. Fail. The reason there were a bunch of tires on our vacant lot was because some idiots decided that was the best place to dump them to avoid the $7 per tire state fee. Maybe I was actually the victim of illegal dumping and not just speculatively accumulating waste tires for the hell of it. 

It took a few calls and emails but I eventually received offers of support from the Refuse Department and Alderwoman Ingrassia to possibly install some mobile cameras to catch the culprits. Seemed like a good story-line for a reality TV series "Waste Bandits" but I was hopeful this was a one-time event but it was nice to know that there were some more aggressive options in place should the problem escalate.I was impressed with the show of concern from the 6th Ward and my neighbors...but a bit frustrated that the assumption was that I was breaking the law. More frustrating was the fact that no one seemed to know what to do with the tires.

So, I picked up the phone. The City Health Department representative who wrote the violation made some loose recommendations but didn't have any immediate solutions. I did learn that to avoid a fine I could place the tires on pallets and cover them to avoid water accumulation (I assume to ward of West Nile) and that I could dispose of three tires per residence on bulk pickup day. All good information, but no solution for my 24 tires that were so generously donated to me. Frustrated but determined, I did what any property might do when faced with illegal tire dumping...wait, you mean knowledge of tire disposal isn't a skill that everyone in a Rust Belt city automatically knows? Nope.

I hit up Google and started making calls. My first lead was with Tri-Rinse on the riverfront who require a minimum a 50 tires and then charge $3 per tire for disposal. Seemed pretty straight-forward but I was 26 tires short of their minimum. That said, I'm overwhelmingly confident that like a bad case of urban dust bunnies more tires would find their way to my property and I could just wait...and pay $3 more per tire. I was hoping for a less ridiculous solution that didn't involve me waiting for more tires to appear and me making 5 trips in my station wagon.

My next call was to Tire Shredders out of High Ridge, Missouri who even offered mobile pickup. Talk about service! Sadly, they weren't keen about picking up at a vacant lot. I expressed my desperation for a solution and even offered to meet the driver myself to load the tires. Two weeks. Nothing. Finally, I called and was told they would put me on the list for pickup and at $2 per tire with no minimum (that I was told) it seemed a solution had been found. A few days later, I got a call from a driver who said he was 20 minutes away and couldn't have asked for a nicer guy. He told me I didn't have to assist in loading the tires but I insisted and even decided to add tire tossing to the list of Urban Olympic events at the upcoming Midwestival event coming in fall 2013. Start practicing now for the illegal tire toss!

Tire Shredders is a rubber tire disposal company.  It takes tires and shreds them into one-inch chips. In Missouri, the tires are taken to AmerenUE and burned with coal to increase the BTU output from the coal. Illinois chips are shredded smaller and used for playgrounds and horse arenas. Tire Shredders is known for its record of keeping the area clean by working with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA.

Really fantastic business model. Free material that people PAY you to pick up and business is good! Tire Shredders has 4 trucks out every day and picks up over 2,000 tires per day that could otherwise end up in rivers, ravines...and did end up in our South City vacant lot! Pretty amazing story and good lesson to learn. Despite the frustrating experience, hours of lost time and $54 dollars ($6 fuel surcharge) I now can claim knowledge of what to do with waste tires both legal and illegal...and so can you.

More information on scrap tires here from the EPA.