How to Recycle Tires

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on January 23, 2023
4 min read

If you own a vehicle, you might have gotten a new set of tires and wondered what to do with the old ones. Not everyone knows how to dispose of tires properly or that recycling tires is an option. Instead, tires often end up in landfills and junk yards where they can leach toxins and pose a threat to the environment and its organisms.

Luckily, there are alternatives to throwing tires away. If you need cash, it is possible to sell old tires and rims. Depending on the condition of the tires, they can be repurposed for playgrounds and planters. However, most of the time, it’s best to recycle them because even when upcycled, tires can continue to break down, releasing toxins and exposing the environment to harm.

Tires have many layers made up of natural rubbers, synthetic polymers, steel, textiles, fillers such as carbon black and amorphous precipitated silica, antiozonants, and curing systems such as sulfur and zinc oxide

The layers of a tire include: 

  • Bead bundles: Wires that hold the tire and wheel together  
  • Bead filler: A rubber component located above the bead bundle 
  • Belts: Two belts with steel cords at opposite angles that are used for stability in the tire’s tread 
  • Body ply: one or two layers made of polyester, rayon, or nylon cords that give the tire strength and structure
  • Innerliner: A rubber component that helps retain a tire’s inflation pressure 
  • Sidewall: A rubber component that covers the plies 
  • Tread: Another rubber component that offers traction 

Recycling tires allows recyclers to separate the materials and recycle them individually. Each item from the tire is reusable in various ways. For example, the rubber from tires can become rubber mulch or be used to create energy. Steel can be recycled repeatedly to create new tires or to reinforce a building’s structure. When tires are recycled and repurposed into other items, energy and resources can be saved and allocated elsewhere.

Making tires requires two substantial elements: oil and steel. Oil is one of the leading sources of industrial greenhouse gases and thus has many negative impacts on the environment. Aside from greenhouse gas emissions, oil also contributes to toxic air and water pollution. Steel impacts the environment negatively by contributing to the emission of carbon dioxide. 

Before tires can be created, the raw materials oil and steel must be acquired. The process of extracting these components harms the environment by depleting natural resources and releasing dangerous emissions into the atmosphere.

Further, tires themselves can pose a serious risk to the environment. As you drive down the road, your tires break down and leave behind tiny black specks which wash into ditches, creeks, and other channels. Eventually, they wash into larger channels such as rivers and oceans. After that, these minuscule pieces of tire, called microplastics, can end up anywhere — including within the seafood people consume. 

While the effects of these particles are understudied, they are still known to pose risks to all parts of the earth including the environment, wildlife, and humans.

For the most part, tires can be recycled. However, some facilities do not accept all tires, so it’s important to check between facilities and businesses to see which kinds of tires they accept. 

If you have your tires changed by a mechanic at an automobile or bicycle shop, they will dispose of them for you with your permission. 

If you changed the tires yourself, then there are a few options available. You can contact your local garbage company to ask about their recycling program and see if they accept tires. You can also check with nearby mechanics and automobile shops to see whether they would accept your old tires and recycle them on your behalf. Check out local recycling centers and retread facilities — many cities anticipate the need to dispose of tires and will have designated facilities to accept and recycle them. Some recycling centers may even give you money in return. 

If you are unable or unwilling to haul your old tires away yourself and your local garbage company does not recycles tires, you may be able to find a local business that will come to your home and pick them up. Some may charge a fee while others may do it for free.

One last option is to donate your tires and rims. Several programs accept tires and rims for donation. Some may even pick up and haul away your donations free of charge.

Recycled tires can be used in several ways. Just a few examples of how tires can be recycled and reused include: 

  • Gravel substitute 
  • Crumb rubber
  • Landfill medium such as a liner, cover, or insulation for landfills
  • Wastewater treatment filters
  • Garden mulch

Tires can also be used for engineering purposes including building roads, supplementing asphalt, and creating drainage materials.

Lastly, consider upcycling your tires and rims. Upcycling is the process of taking an old product and repurposing the material yourself to make it more valuable. There are several ways tires and rims can be upcycled. Rims can be used to create bases for coffee and end tables while tires can be repurposed to create sandals. Upcycling often takes some elbow grease, but it’s a great alternative for those without other accessible means of disposal.

The recycling process for tires depends on the condition of the tires and the materials being extracted from them. Tires can be recycled as whole tires, they can be processed through machines that split them into halves, or they can be shred to create products such as ground rubber, crumb rubber, and other materials. Of all recycled scrap tires, 7% are exported overseas, 8% are repurposed, and 40% are used as fuel. 

Whether you decide to sell, donate, recycle, or reuse your old tires, you will contribute to the health of the environment.