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Arizona Legislature Considers Stuffing Used Tires into Abandoned Mines

Arizona legislature considers a bill that could raise the risk of underground mine firesGiven the state of the economy you’d think they’d be pinching every penny but it appears that the State of Arizona has money to burn – perhaps literally.  Last week the House voted in favor of a bill that would use old tires to fill abandoned mines.  The bill’s supporters cite the growing problem of used tire dumps, but apparently they don’t keep up with the latest business news.  Magnum D’Or and InfoSpi are just two of the rapidly growing number of companies that see the potential for recycling those tire dumps into real money – and creating more green jobs to boot.

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Squandering an opportunity to make money is bad enough, but the Arizona bill does something much worse.  Tires burn, right?  Doesn’t everybody know that?   Tire fires are hard enough to put out when they’re in open dumps.  The idea of stuffing millions of tires into abandoned mines sounds a little less than common sensical… that is, if you know anything about underground mine fires…

The Tire Dump Dilemma

It’s true that at the present time, tire recycling hasn’t kept up with the problem of tire dumps.  The U.S. EPA estimates that about 290 million scrap tires enter the waste stream every year in the U.S. alone.  Some are recycled for use in landscaping or playground surfaces.  Recycled-tire sidewalks are starting to appear, too.  But the fact is that the dumps continue to grow.

From Scrap Tires to Money

Things are starting to change, and you don’t have to go far from Arizona to see the future of tire recycling.  Last year the company Magnum D’Or Resources, Inc. bought one of the largest tire dumps in the world, a 30 million tire behemoth in Hudson, Colorado.  Magnum has developed a process for converting used tires into high value rubber nuggets that can be used to make new tires.  A little farther away in Florida, InfoSpi has embarked on an ambitious plan to build a string of tire-to-oil recycling facilities that will also extract steel and high-value carbon black from waste tires (the same company is turning sewage into biofuel, by the way).  Productive Recycling has found a way to manufacture landscaping blocks from used tires, and Carbolytic Materials just opened a plant that will recycle tires into “green” carbon black.

Tires on Fire

With the growing opportunities for high value recycling, putting scrap tires underground is like throwing money down the drain.  It also creates a greater risk of underground mine fires that can burn for decades, creating toxic fumes and undermining surfaces.  It’s a global problem of epic proportions and it exists right here in the U.S.  Perhaps the most notorious mine fire in the U.S. is still burning in Centralia, Pennsylvania with no end in sight.  It started in 1962 and nearly all of the town’s 1,000 residents were forced to evacuate.  As of this year, only five households remain and state officials are trying to convince them to get out.  As for how the fire started, the precise origins are slightly murky but it appears to have started when local firemen burned off an open dump that was becoming a nuisance, and hosed the remaining debris into an abandoned mine shaft…

Image: Tire fire by OK-59 on flickr.com.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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