Wisconsin is better known for milk and cheese. But now it sits proudly on the short list of states that have aggressively stopped any piles of scrap tires from gathering on the landscape.
Nearly a decade ago, the state devised a temporary incentive plan that included all points along the scrap-tire spectrum, from tire sellers to utilities burning tires as tire derived fuel for energy production.
"We were fortunate that we had the cooperation of utilities in the state," says Paul Koziar, manager of the waste-tire program of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. For the most part, environmental groups in the state praise the solution.
The incentives included seed money that allowed utilities to cover initial capital investments and early operating expenses. The companies had to modify technology to accept scrap tires for burning.
"Scrap tires are generated mostly by two sources," says Mr. Koziar, "major franchises like Sears or Goodyear, and by auto salvagers."
By law, under the plan, these sources pay $1 to $2 a tire to a hauler, who takes the tires to a processor. There the tires are reduced to small chips and taken to a utility, where they are combusted in boilers. Under the initial incentive plan, the state paid $20 a ton for tires used in a boiler, and $40 a ton if the utility both processed the tires and burned them.
Before the program, only 15 percent of the state's scrap tires were used in any manner. Today, of the 4 million to 5 million scrap tires that used to end up in piles or landfills each year, nearly all are being put to productive use. The program has been so successful that Koziar says nearly all the state's tire piles are gone. In addition, the state accepts scrap tires from other states and Canada. "I have a Jekyll and Hyde attitude toward this," says Koziar. "Eventually these states will have to take their heads out of the sand and deal with the problem at home."
Experts say that a nationwide scrap-tire solution means one thing: creating many markets for recycling and disposing.
"Once you find ways to use tires as fuel or for civil engineering purposes or new products, markets are created," says Michael Blumenthal of the Scrap Tire Management Council. "First, deal with the annual generation of scrap tires, like Wisconsin has," he says, "and then it's easier to reduce the tire piles."