Last updated on October 16th, 2023 at 10:36 am
Climate change has been the most discussed and crucial topic of 2023, and as people become aware of its effects, preventive measures and actions have been taken worldwide to sustain the world.
The tire has been a high contributing factor in climate change. Hence, sustainability in tire development, usage, and disposal is necessary to achieve our goals to protect and sustain this world.
Although the tire is one of this age’s most essential and prominent necessities, its environmental impact is vividly dangerous. Quick transportation won’t be possible without tires because almost every vehicle, plane, and train requires moving tires. So, removing tires from this world is not an option.
To deal with these issues, companies are working to manufacture tires to reduce their impact; Japan has planned to turn its tire production 100% recyclable to avoid the waste of rubber and end-of-life tires.
Just like this, Michelin, Goodyear, and Continental Tire have been making efforts to reduce waste and make tires more environmentally friendly by using ingredients that have a lower impact on ozone.
However, the results are less prominent; even if the process and tire are sustainable, its performance compared to conventional tires can’t be better or equivalent, so consumers eventually don’t go for them.
The dream of sustainable tires has been shown for a decade now. Only some manufacturers have come up with changes in developing or even acceptably sustaining tires, which raises questions on whether they are more concerned about the money and just pretending to be eco-friendly brands.
Because issues as crucial as this should be addressed more loudly than small changes like soybean oil and silica implications in tire development.
We have written this article to show the readers the impacts of tires on the environment throughout their lives from cradle to grave. We will also talk about challenges to brands, the progress of tire manufacturers, future trends of sustainable tires, and innovation and its impact on tire performance in this article.
Table of Contents
The Environmental Impact of Conventional Tires
There are three stages of the tire life cycle: production, usage, and disposal (end-of-life tire), and the bad thing is that all three stages impact the environment. So there is a need to use materials to build tires sustainably so that when they contact the ground, they consume less energy, and a process to recycle them to create a completely sustainable life cycle of tires.
Based on this research, the conventional tire has a certain impact on the environment, whereas when a tire is driven on the road, it is the most impactful.
The usage stage of car tires generates the most significant environmental impact.
- In the usage stage, the primary contributors to environmental impact are fossil fuels (65.67%), respiratory inorganics (21.71%), and climate change (9.25%).
- Natural gas extraction, in particular, significantly impacts fossil fuel exhaustion, accounting for 96.85% of the harmful effects.
- Carbon dioxide is the most significant contributor to climate change, representing almost 99% of the impact.
- Car tires contain substances like arsenic ions, cadmium ions, and unspecified hydrocarbons, which contribute to environmental impacts.
- Radon-222 and carbon-14 mainly contribute to the radiation category’s harmful impacts.
- Several substances, including zinc, nickel, copper ions, lead, chromium, and mercury, generated during the production stage, contribute to ecotoxicity.
- Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur oxide, and nitric oxide contribute to eutrophication/acidification.
The production process is identified as the most destructive aspect in terms of emissions of inorganic substances causing respiratory diseases. these things can help in reducing the impact:
- Reducing rolling resistance in tires can help decrease fuel consumption and environmental impact.
- Transitioning to electric vehicles and renewable energy sources for electric vehicle operation can significantly reduce environmental impacts.
- The use stage has the highest negative impact on human health, ecosystem quality, and resources, with processes related to fossil fuel extraction being a significant contributor.
- Recycling of car tires has a positive effect, albeit relatively small, in reducing environmental impacts across all lifecycle stages.
Current Challenges of Tire Disposal
Waste Tire Generation: Every day, thousands of tires are dumped into waste due to the lack of recycling and reuse processes. There are millions of waste dumped tires all over the world, impacting the environment daily.
Illegal Dumping: Improper disposal methods, such as illegally dumping tires in open spaces, vacant lots, or water bodies, contribute to environmental pollution and pose challenges for waste authorities in addressing these illegal disposal sites.
Storage Issues: Storing waste tires can be challenging due to their bulkiness and the risk of fire hazards. If it catches fire, the toxic fume in the air could cause human health problems and damage the environment.
Leachate and Contamination: Waste tires can leach chemicals and pollutants into the soil and water, contaminating groundwater and soil. This can have adverse effects on local ecosystems and human health as well.
Landfilling Tires: Historically, many waste tires were disposed of in landfills. Around 4 billion tires are landfilled around the world. Landfilling is problematic because tires are not biodegradable, taking up valuable landfill space and posing long-term environmental risks.
Groundwater Contamination: Leachate from landfilled tires can contaminate groundwater with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, posing a risk to nearby communities and ecosystems.
Sustainable Options are the only way
The tire industry is one of the top industries in the world due to the total number of cars and tire requirements. The natural resources they use will cause deflation and might put the world in trouble due to the scarcity of these resources. Processing these rubbers and fossil fuels have a direct impact on the environment, human, and other living things in the world.
The increasing tire demand requires a more scarce resource to consume; natural rubber, which is one of the most used materials to develop a tire, the rubber extracted from a rubber tree, and cutting rubber trees will reduce the number of trees in the forest as it took 10-15 years for a mature rubber tree to grow.
The diverse effects will affect the environment as trees are the number one resource of oxygen. Also, climate change is worsening due to the lack of trees in our world.
The substitute for natural rubber is a synthetic rubber made of petroleum-driven material. As we are already facing the depletion of crude oil and gas, further fossil fuel shortage will have an impact if the tire industry totally switches to synthetic rubber tire production.
After that, the energy, gas, and oil it requires to process these materials also impact the environment daily. One manufacturer of tires utilizes tons of fossil fuels daily to fulfill the demand for tires.
Regulations and Standards in Sustainable Tire Development
The government of the United States has been enforcing tire manufacturers to practice sustainable manufacturing using less impactful materials and resources. The government has regulated manufacturers to put fuel efficiency, grip, and eco-friendliness so drivers buy more eco-centric tires.
With that, emission standards, recycling, and disposal practices are also encouraged by governments as proper guidelines for dumping tires. Extended producer responsibility is an example of end-of-life tire usage, which promotes sustainable practices among tire manufacturers.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed standards related to tire manufacturing processes, environmental impact, and quality control. ISO 14001 focuses on environmental management systems, while ISO 9001 addresses quality management.
TIP, initiated by leading tire manufacturers, works on developing standards and guidelines for assessing and managing tire environmental and social impacts. TIP, part of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), collaborates with stakeholders to address the environmental and social challenges associated with tires.
Industry associations and organizations, such as the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA), have developed sustainability toolkits that provide guidelines for manufacturers to measure and improve their environmental performance.
Some industry standards and labeling schemes promote eco-friendly tires by evaluating factors like rolling resistance, wet grip, and emissions. The European Union’s tire labeling system is an example of that.
Tire manufacturers align their goals based on SDGs assigned goals, which talk about climate actions, sustainable production and disposal, and life underwater and above land.
Some tire manufacturers commit to global initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and promote sustainable transportation, aligning with international efforts to fight climate change.
Sustainable Practices in Tire Production
Tire manufacturers are transitioning to lower-carbon production processes to reduce their environmental impact. This includes optimizing manufacturing methods and reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.
- To lower greenhouse gas emissions, manufacturers are using renewable materials in their products. These materials could come from sustainable sources or obtained through a recycling process.
- With that, the chemical recycling of tires is gaining attention as a sustainable practice in the tire industry. It can recover valuable materials such as carbon black and synthetic oils with a significantly lower carbon footprint than virgin materials.
- Tire and road wear particles (TRWPs) are another concerning point toward sustainable tire development. Scientific studies indicate that TRWPs, generated when tires interact with the road, could contribute to environmental harm, such as microplastic pollution.
- However, Organizations like the Tire Industry Project (TIP) are researching to assess the environmental impact of TRWPs. While TIP suggests that TRWPs present no significant risk to humans and the environment, some studies have linked specific tire particle chemicals to ecological issues, such as fish die-offs.
- The focus of manufacturers is also on optimizing tires’ rolling efficiency to reduce fuel consumption in vehicles. It involves improving tire design to minimize rolling resistance, which, in turn, lowers fuel emissions because the usage stage is the most disturbing to the environment.
- The industry is exploring alternatives to fossil fuel-based raw materials used in tire production. Renewable materials like wood lignin and soybean oil for various tire components are being used by Brands like Continental and Bridgestone, which have also switched to it.
- Additionally, Companies like Solvay produce silica, a common tire component, from renewable sources like rice husk ash. The carbon footprint of silica production is reduced when combined with renewable energy sources.
- The tire industry is moving toward a circular economy by using recycled materials instead of virgin feedstocks—emissions and waste associated with tire manufacturing.
- To find Alternative Sources of Natural Rubber, Tire manufacturers are researching alternatives, such as dandelion roots and guayule shrubs, to diversify their supply chain and reduce dependence on traditional rubber tree plantations, which are scarce, and cutting them also impacts the environment.
- Chemical recycling technologies are expanding in the tire industry, offering a sustainable way to recover valuable materials from used tires. Companies like Pyrum Innovations are scaling up their operations to process more tires and recover oil, carbon black, and other materials.
- Other innovative approaches, like applying synthetic biology to recycle waste tires and produce synthetic rubber ingredients like butadiene, are being explored in collaboration with technology firms like LanzaTech.
The research teams of big manufacturers are working toward revolutionizing how tires develop, resulting in safer and eco-friendly tires.
Challenges and Barriers to Implementing Sustainability
The number one challenge is cost related to sustainable tire development. This transition will require upfront investment, huge locations, and research development for adequately executing the sustainable tire development.
With that, the cost of green materials compared to synthetic and natural rubber is far more expensive, which will make it hard for the manufacturer so hard to compete with high-performing, low-price tires, and the tire market is highly competitive. So, proper government and consumer support will be needed to achieve the goal of eco-friendly tires.
Lack of Awareness: Many consumers may need to be made aware of the environmental impact of tires or the availability of sustainable options. Raising awareness about sustainable tire choices is a barrier to adoption.
Price Sensitivity: Consumers often prioritize cost over sustainability when purchasing tires. Sustainable tires may be perceived as more expensive, discouraging adoption.
Education and Marketing: Tire manufacturers face the challenge of educating consumers about the benefits of sustainable tires and convincing them to choose eco-friendly options.
Collection and Sorting: Collecting and sorting used tires for recycling can be logistically challenging, especially in regions with inadequate infrastructure for tire disposal.
Technological Constraints: Recycling tires into high-quality materials suitable for tire production can be technically demanding. The development of efficient recycling technologies is necessary.
Market for Recycled Materials: Establishing a stable market for recycled tire materials is essential to incentivize recycling efforts and make them economically viable.
These are some of the challenges that manufacturers of even big tire brands face; overcoming these challenges will require government, industry, and consumer support. With that, it will be possible to manufacture 100% sustainable tires.
Success Stories and Case Studies
Goodyear, a renowned tire manufacturer, has been actively pursuing sustainable practices in tire production with a strong focus on utilizing eco-friendly materials and reducing its reliance on petroleum-based resources.
Bio-Based Oils: Goodyear has incorporated bio-based oils into its tire manufacturing processes. The company aims to replace petroleum-based oils with sustainable alternatives by 2040 fully. In 2022, Goodyear achieved an impressive 28% increase in sustainable oil usage compared to the previous year.
Soybean Oil: One of the notable examples of sustainable materials usage is Goodyear’s adoption of soybean oil in its polymer and tire manufacturing processes. Soybean oil, sourced as surplus beyond food applications, has been used in various ways, contributing to the company’s sustainability goals.
Sustainability Goals: Goodyear set ambitious sustainability goals related to the increased use of soybean oil. They aimed to increase its usage by 25% by the end of 2019 but exceeded this target significantly with a 90% increase in 2019. Subsequent years also saw substantial growth in soybean oil usage.
Silica from Rice Husk Ash (RHA): Goodyear introduced a silica product derived from residual rice husk ash, a byproduct of rice processing, to reduce environmental impact and landfill waste. This RHA silica offers performance similar to traditional sand-based silica while being more environmentally friendly.
Goodyear’s sustainable tire production practices have yielded several positive outcomes:
Reduced Petroleum Dependency: By increasing the use of bio-based and soybean oils, Goodyear is reducing its reliance on petroleum-based resources, contributing to a more sustainable supply chain.
Environmental Benefits: Adopting RHA silica and other sustainable materials helps reduce waste and minimize the ecological footprint of tire manufacturing.
Performance and Innovation: Despite the shift towards sustainable materials, Goodyear maintains high product quality and performance standards, emphasizing sustainability and product excellence compatibility.
Michelin has also embarked on several innovative recycling and sustainability initiatives to transform waste materials into valuable resources for tire production.
BioButterfly Project: Michelin, in collaboration with partners IFPEN and Axens, as well as support from ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management), is running the BioButterfly project. This initiative focuses on producing butadiene, a key component in synthetic rubbers used for tires, from biomass-derived ethanol instead of petroleum-derived sources. The project aims to integrate 4.2 million tonnes of wood chips into Michelin tires annually.
Styrene Regeneration: Partnering with Pyrowave, Michelin is involved in an innovative process that uses microwaves to break down waste polystyrene (e.g., yogurt pots and food containers) to recover styrene. This regenerated styrene is employed in various industries, including tire manufacturing. This process could potentially recycle 80,000 tons of polystyrene waste into Michelin tires each year.
Recycled Textiles: Michelin collaborates with Carbios on a groundbreaking process that breaks down PET plastic waste (e.g., plastic bottles) into their monomers through enzymatic action. One application of this process is the production of polyester yarn used in tire manufacturing, allowing for the recycling of nearly 4 billion plastic bottles into Michelin tires annually.
Carbon Black Recovery: Partnering with Enviro, Michelin has developed a unique pyrolysis-based process to decompose end-of-life tires and recover components like carbon black and oil. The recovered carbon black is reintegrated into new tire production, potentially recycling 56 million tires annually.
Michelin’s innovative recycling and sustainability initiatives have substantial positive impacts:
Reduced Environmental Footprint: These initiatives contribute to reducing the environmental impact of tire manufacturing by using waste materials as resources and reducing the need for virgin materials.
Resource Efficiency: Michelin’s commitment to recycling and reusing materials aligns with the principles of a circular economy, minimizing waste and conserving resources.
Technological Advancements: The company’s involvement in pioneering recycling technologies positions it as a leader in sustainable tire manufacturing and demonstrates the industry’s feasibility of circular economy practices.
Brands like Michelin and Goodyear will set an example in revolutionizing the tire industry, and consumers should also encourage their efforts toward eco-friendly tires. Developing conventional tires will be more convenient for them due to the experience these more than 100-year-old brands have. However, they are still practising sustainable options for the well-being of human beings.
As a driver, you should also go toward sustainable tires and brands promoting sustainability in their workplace. Because with sustainable ingredients, the sustainability of production methods is also crucial.
The impact of tires has been known for years, but no prevention measures have been taken for a longer period. But now, most brands aim to achieve 100% sustainability in 15-20 years, which is a need of this world. Encouraging them is our responsibility as good will come to the climate; after tires on every car minimize the impact on the environment.