You have to replace them on your car. They collect in the river and on the banks. They pile up in scrap yards and landfills. Among the junk that Buncombians throw away, perhaps nothing is more persistent than old tires.
And lately, someone has been dumping them, each cut neatly across the tread with a saw or similar tool, in secluded spots such as Asheville’s River District.
Asheville Greenworks’ staffer Eric Bradford got on the case earlier this month, when he and some volunteers worked to clean up piles of discarded tires someone dumped near the river along Lyman Street.
Disposal of scrap tires has always been a problem, says tire expert and Asheville City Council member Jan Davis. For years, Buncombe County buried tires in its landfill, says Davis, but they take up a lot of space, each creating an air-filled cavity underground, so they eventually work their way back to the surface. Because tires don’t readily biodegrade, their disposal is supposed to follow strict guidelines under state laws developed in the 1980s.
Tires dumped in the community present several problems, says Bradford. As tires degrade in the sun, they become breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other pests; meanwhile, they can leach heavy metals into the environment. Large piles of tires tend to attract more refuse, and they are susceptible to fires that can rage for weeks, releasing harmful fumes into the atmosphere.
The modern solution: Grind ‘em up, and use the rubber in various second-generation products such as playground paving material. (It turns out that the artificial reef efforts you may have heard about didn’t work out so well; hurricanes busted up the man-made reefs and brought too many tires back to North Carolina beaches.)
But when it comes to the recent discovery of dumped tires that have been cut off the rims, Davis notes, “It’s probably someone salvaging cars or something, because that would not be typical of a regular operation that would have a tire changer.
“Most of the gazillion tires out there are handled properly,” he adds, thanks to strict laws regarding their disposal.
Under state law, every new tire sold has a 2-percent sales tax levied on it, funds that are reported by the dealer to the state. “Laws that North Carolina put in place have become a model across the nation,” Davis explains. “Buncombe County provides trailers to receive scrap tires, and records are kept, to match against amounts paid by dealers. Some places will charge $2 to $5 to handle the scrap tires and transport them to the state’s storage trailers. Then they’re taken to a processing plant for shredding.”
Tracking down the offenders in the dumping of cut tires might not be too hard, Davis says. “All you have to do is find a small salvage yard that doesn’t have tire equipment, but is handling some tires … a backyard operation,” he continues. “With the price of metal right now, people are even taking cars that work and crushing them” to sell the scrap metal.
“A little bit of detective work will take you to that one,” Davis says. “Tire markings can reveal a source, too. There’s a clue in those tires somewhere.”
Buncombe County Landfill Manager Kristy Smith agrees. “What that says to me is someone is cutting the tires off for the rim, and taking the rims to the scrap yard,” she tells Xpress. “It could be anybody, trying to get that rim. Sounds like a good sting operation.”
So what’s supposed to happen with our used tires? If your tires are replaced at a commercial tire shop, the dealer hauls the old ones to the landfill, where they’re stored before being transported to a shredding operation for recycling. “We get $78 per ton from the state,” Smith says, as reimbursement for the cost of handling and shipping the tires to a recycling facility such as U.S. Tire in Concord, N.C.
Meanwhile, scrap yards in Buncombe County are allowed to bring up to five tires per scrapped vehicle at no charge; the landfill requires proof of the five-per-vehicle limit based on a weight receipt from the scrapped metal.
Who’s responsible for cleaning up the tires that get abandoned in out-of-the-way spots? “Solid-waste enforcement is a county responsibility,” says Davis. “In reality, it often falls to volunteers to do this cleanup.” Service groups like RiverLink and Asheville GreenWorks say they recover and recycle hundreds of tires annually during community cleanup efforts.
And recently, Greenworks has moved to make it easier for backyard operators to dispose of old tires properly. Bradford has been working to find a private individual who would accept tires until Greenworks can collect them for proper disposal. MountainView Tire has said it is willing to serve as a drop-off point, which Bradford says would be convenient, with several facilities situated around the greater Asheville area.
Meanwhile, Davis argues that established tire dealers have long been part of the solution to dumping. “For years we’ve done the right thing,” he says. “A lot of states have looked to the model North Carolina has provided.”
Looking to dispose of your tires correctly? Asheville Greenworks recommends the following:
1. Purchase your tires from a reputable dealer. Only purchase new tires and always turn in your old set to that dealer.
2. If you are a Buncombe County resident, the Buncombe County Landfill will accept 10 car tires a year, without the metal rim, for free. Beyond that, it’s $2 each for tires with metal rims, six days a week, at 85 Panther Branch Road in Alexander. Call 250-5462 for more information.
3. Ask your local tire dealer if you can pay them to take your old tires to be recycled.