Some mind-boggling facts to start with: In 2019 alone, vehicle tires in access of 3 billion were produced in the world. A typical tire will be used for a commute of about 20,000 miles (32,180 km) throughout its life. When a tire’s utility is done in most countries, it is good for nothing; they are recycled into different goods. But in this same world where tires are recycled, many of them end up in tire graveyards like Kuwait.
Kuwait City’s Sulaibiya neighborhood is one such place. Annually, huge holes in the sandy dirt are dug out and filled with old tires, resulting in the erection of tire mountains that can be seen from space.
Numerous reports claim that at the moment, there are tires over 7 million in the ground in the said graveyard. Surprisingly, not all tires are from Kuwait. The country has allowed neighboring countries to send their worn-out tires to the landfill for free.
These worn out and discarded tires are one of the trickiest sources of waste due to their large volume in the market. Their durability and the huge numbers of harmful chemicals it contains is of little to no help. The trouble is that fire is a major issue at Kuwait’s tire graveyard, and numerous fires have been consistently reported over the years.
Tire fires produce mammoth amounts of smoke that carries toxic chemicals, like carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides, resulting from the breakdown of rubber compounds. These components are complicated to put out. In addition to this, the trouble with these tire fires is that they are a major reason for respiratory ailments to cancer; these substances can have short- and long-term health effects. Moreover, during the burning process, the tires release heavy metals and oil, the same then seeps into the ground and water over time, polluting land and water.
In 2019, for example, a huge fire engulfed the tire graveyard. According to KUNA, “the fire consumed 25,000 million square meters of the site, resulting in the burning of an estimated one million tires.” The most recent fire was reported on April 29, 2021. Three factories have been planned to recycle the tires, but no progress in this direction has been made.
Transporting tires to landfills is forbidden in the vast majority of nations, including the whole continent of Europe. These countries recycle their tires instead of shipping them to landfills. In the U.S., scrap tires are burned for fuel, used in crumb rubber products, employed in civil engineering applications, and some are crushed and disposed of in landfills, according to the RMA.
Tire recycling is beneficial for both the economy and the environment. For example, they can be reused as road sublayers and playground flooring. They also have a huge utility in constructing artificial sports fields, carpet underlays, equestrian arenas.