How to Recycle Tires

Tires are one of the coolest products to recycle because they can be turned into such a wide variety of products. Your flat tire could end up burned off as fuel, turned into playground equipment or even used to make artificial turf.

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Tire Recycling Preparation

  1. Before disposing of tires, ask an auto shop if your old tires can be retreaded or repaired. Either option prolongs the life of your tires and is cheaper than buying new tires.
  2. If you are having tires replaced at an auto shop, ask if the shop will recycle the old tires for you. Depending on where you live, the cost of new tires may include a tax that funds the disposal of your old tires, or disposal may be included in the service charge.
  3. If recycling tires yourself, you’ll need to remove the rim and wheel weights first. Luckily, the rim is made of aluminum and the weights are made of steel — both valuable metals you can recycle as scrap. Warning: You should have experience using power tools if you’re going to cut the tire off the rim yourself. Please exercise caution.
  4. Before recycling tires, consider a reuse project for them. Besides the obvious option of making a tire swing, they make great planters in your garden or compost bins.

Why Recycle Tires

  • We dispose of 300 million tires per year in the U.S. — almost one per person.
  • Tires in a landfill trap water that attracts rodents and mosquitoes. They also consume a lot of space, trap methane emissions and create a fire risk — and tire fires are difficult to extinguish.
  • One of the leading uses for recycled tires is tire-derived fuel (TDF). TDF is an alternative to fossil fuels and produces 25 percent more energy than coal.

Frequent Tires Recycling Questions

Under ordinary circumstances, don’t leave your tires out at the curb. Most curbside collection programs won’t pick up tires with your regular recycling. If you want to have your tires picked up, call your municipality and see if you can schedule a special pickup.
No, and in most cases you’ll need to pay to have them recycled. You can make money recycling the aluminum rims at a scrap metal dealer, though.

Most municipalities have banned tires from landfills, meaning you’ll need to bite the bullet and pay for recycling instead of throwing them away.

If you are having new tires installed, tire retailers should automatically recycle the old ones for you. If you bring in tires but don’t purchase new ones, there’s a chance they will be accepted, but likely for a fee. Call and check first.
When tires are installed on your car, the shop uses steel or zinc weights to balance your tires so that your wheels rotate smoothly. If you hit a curb, the weights may get knocked loose, which contributes to your car falling “out of alignment.”

During tire recycling, these weights must be removed and separately recycled. They used to be made of lead, a heavier and more toxic metal, but steel is the most recycled material on earth.

Yes, most tire recyclers require that the rim is removed. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy process. If you do find a recycler that accepts tires with rims, be prepared to pay more for recycling — even though the rim is the most valuable part of the tire — because rim removal is so challenging.
After the rims and weights are removed to be recycled separately, the tires are typically shredded or ground using a tire shredder. These shredders use powerful knives to rip and tear the tire into small pieces. Some by-products of the tire — such as fiber and steel — are separated and sold as a feedstock for other industries.

The rest of the shredded tire can be used for various purposes. If it is destined for TDF, the material is sent to an incinerator, boiler or cement kiln, depending on the facility that will use the tire for energy. Other uses for shredded and ground tires include rubberized asphalt, playground mulch, road embankments, or even as material for new tires.

Tires used for TDF are converted to energy in a controlled process; the incinerator or boiler adhere to strict regulations required by the EPA.

When a stack of tires catches fire, it’s an uncontrolled process. These fires are extremely difficult to extinguish, produce much smoke and release toxic chemicals into the air. Tire fires are a significant concern if used tires are not recycled.

As of 2017, 36 states have banned tires from landfills, including California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Luckily, these laws mean it’s much easier to find tire recycling options in these states.

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