Approximately 1.5 billion tons of tyres are produced each year around the world - meaning just as many will need to be disposed of some day. Good news: they're driving forward the circular economy.
The rubber part of disused tyres are being recovered and recycled into a range of brand new products.
When we talk about sustainability and transportation, we usually tend to focus on the most obvious aspect: the particle pollution that comes from exhaust pipes and the CO2 emissions caused by the combustion of petroleum-based products, like gasoline, in internal combustion engines. But mobility creates other challenges too - like what to do with the issue of disused tyres. For decades, used tyres were simply thrown away into landfill, or burned - but ever since a 2006 EU directive banning them from being dumped in landfill, innovation has been required to turn so-called end-of-life tyres into something new. From sports shoes to roofing tiles, here are some of the ways that tyres are joining the circular economy:
...football pitches and running tracks
One solution which has been around for a long time is the practice of shredding old tyres down into rubber granules which then act as infill in artificial turf on football fields, or as slightly bouncy, shock absorbing flooring for athletic tracks and even children's playgrounds.
For the last few years, several shoe brands have been using end-of-life tyres in their designs. Xinca, an Argentinian startup, works with single mothers and prison inmates to make shoes with soles made from disused tyres. Ecoalf is another brand turning tyres into shoes - flip-flops - without using coagulants, chemicals or adhesives. You can check out the process below.
...as sound barriers
In the Czech Republic, design company mmcité+ is turning old tyres into noise barriers - walls that are fixed alongside railways or highway infrastructure to reduce vehicle noise. Four tyres can make one square metre.
In the Spanish city of Granada too, a project has added rubber to tram rails to help reduce the noise of the passing trams and reduce vibrations.
...street signs and road surfaces
As well as making shoes, tyre-recycling company Gomavial is turning the rubber from disused tyres into durable, recyclable road signs - 250 tyres are recycled to make 1000 signs.
Mixing asphalt and "crumb rubber" also produces something called rubberised asphalt, which can be used as a road surface. This takes advantage of the elasticity and noise absorbing characteristics of the road surface and increases safety when roads are wet.
...as durable building materials
Tests have found that adding polymer fibres from tyres to concrete made the concrete more resilient - shrinking both the tyre industry’s carbon footprint and, since cement is a major source of greenhouse gases, reducing the construction industry’s emissions.
Tyres could also offer an added bonus in earthquake-prone regions. In Ecuador, student Pamela Hidalgo has come up with a way of making tiles out of this recycled rubber powder - resulting in a product that is both cheaper and lighter than conventional roofing materials and could reduce damage from natural phenomena such as earthquakes.
A completely new way of thinking about production, and an alternative to the conventional “take, use, dispose” mindset, you can read more about the circular economy here.