Tire Recycling in BC

When we drive our vehicles, we make sure regular and required maintenance, including oil changes, brake pads and even a tune up, is completed at the proper intervals. However, some of us do not pay close attention to one of our vehicle’s main components which helps it keep running on the roads; these are the tires. Tires play a very important role in our vehicle’s longevity and how it handles on the road, especially during our changing seasons in North America.

When we go to a shop to get new tires for our vehicles, we assume that the old ones will be tossed out because their tread is worn out. But what really happens to these tires once they have left our sight? Well, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes when it comes to tires and tire sustainability. One company, Western Rubber Products (a division of Liberty Tire Recycling), located in British Columbia, takes these worn tires, and creates meaningful ways to reuse them. Although the company has humble beginnings, Western Rubber Products is one of the major players in the tire recycling business in Western Canada.

Western Rubber Products was founded by local entrepreneurs in 1989. Due to Western Rubber Products’ competitiveness, philosophy, and innovations with tire recycling, it continued to grow over the 34 years. Today, Western Rubber Products operates year-round employing over 140 full-time employees. Their one major goal is to keep tires of out the landfill. Western Rubber Products collects tires from every community in British Columbia with their company-owned tractors, trailers, and working with third party transporters. Western Rubber has a very efficient tire collection model with the goal of minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

Western Rubber Products operates in the Lower Mainland on Annacis Island and on Vancouver Island. Since opening in 1989, Western Rubber Products has processed over 100 million PTE (Passenger Tire Equivalent) for a total of over 2.2 billion pounds of recycled products (i.e., rubber, tire wire, fibre). Moreover, their operating area in British Columbia is 945 thousand square kilometers: to put that into perspective, it’s a third larger than the state of Texas. The company’s biggest milestone was in 2020, when Western Rubber Products recycled their 100 millionth tire.

Moving on, when we analyze the bigger landscape of tire recycling, there is an environmental non-profit agency by the name of Tire Stewardship of British Columbia (TSBC) which governs the tire recycling program in British Columbia. Rosemary Sutton is the Executive Director at TSBC and I had the privilege of interviewing her to gain some valuable background knowledge of why TSBC was created and its purpose for tire recycling in BC.

The Financial Incentives for Recycling Scrap Tires (FIRST) program was introduced in June 1991 in response to concerns that scrap tires were posing environmental and human health risks. The program provides a system of financial incentives for the transportation and recycling of scrap tires.

On June 5, 2003 the Rubber Association of Canada, the Western Canadian Tire Dealers Association and the Retail Council of Canada signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding proposing to create a not-for-profit society called Tire Stewardship BC Association to accept responsibility for the private sector stewardship of the FIRST Program and, henceforth, managing British Columbia’s scrap tire program as an industry led initiative.

The TSBC was created to help producers (retailers) fulfill their obligations and focus on the collection and recycling of tires. Retailers are defined as manufacturers or companies which sell tires or equipment with tires on it (new tires). To operate a scrap tire program in BC the producers must have a ministry approved stewardship plan. The plan outlines how the program will run and how the obligations of the retailers will be met. The stewardship plan must be renewed every five years.

TSBC took over running the tire recycling program in January 1.2007 because the ministry of environment added tires to the recycling regulations. This meant the tire recycling program was not going to be led by the government and the tire industry itself would be responsible for the program. TSBC represents the retailers who are the obligated parties under the regulations to manage the program on their behalf. TSBC reports to the Ministry of the Environment, and TSBC follows the regulations of the Ministry in which TSBC has the authority to operate.

TSBC has established its vision, mission, and goals, which guide the development of recycling program. The vision is about all the scrap tires being transformed to the environmental, economic, and social benefit of BC’s citizens. The mission is to administer a sustainable Extended Producer Responsibility program for the stewardship of all BC scrap tires designated under the BC Recycling Regulation. The goals are to support the environmentally friendly and sustainable collection and management of 100% of regulated scrap tires available for collection. To sustain or reduce the “average” Advance Disposal Fee. To maintain TSBC financial stability, to foster and support innovation and research relative to higher valued solutions within the industry. To assist the industry in building sustainable markets for recycled rubber products. To support community projects that use BC recycled rubber. To support the pollution prevention hierarchy as referenced in the BC Recycling Regulation. To provide public education on the benefits of maintenance and inflation of tires to extend tire life thereby avoiding scrap tires entering the waste stream.

The role of TSBC in tire recycling is to ensure the collection and to recycle all the tires in the province of British Columbia. The tire recycling has to occur in a manner which is environmentally, economically, and socially beneficial for the citizens of British Columbia. It is important to recycle your tires because if they do not enter into the recycling system then the tires end up in the landfill. Tires were ending up in the landfill prior to 1991, as there was no tire recycling program or positive way to use worn out tires which were at the end of life. The government started the tire recycling program and it was the first one in Canada. When we look at the amount of tires which get recycled per year, we need to look at the number in car tire equivalency which comes out to 5.5 million tires which get recycled per year.

The tire recycling programing in BC and other provinces are very similar as they all need to collect fees to fund the collection of tires. TSBC collects an Advance Disposal Fee (ADF), commonly referred to as an eco-fee, from registered retailers on the sale of every new tire including replacement tires and tires on new vehicles. These fees are then used to pay for transporting and recycling BC’s scrap tires in environmentally responsible ways thereby discouraging them from entering the waste stream. The eco fees collected do not go to the government, instead the money is used in the operation and enhancement of the tire recycling program in BC. Each province of Canada and Yukon have regulations in place to manage the fees collected, however, Northwest Territories do not have any regulations in place. There are differences in what each province in producing, not every province is producing crumb rubber. The other difference is who is responsible for the recycling program, in BC, it is an extended producer responsibility program which is industry driven, and in the Yukon, the program is the government’s responsibility. 

As for the tire recycling, all the tires from every corner of the province of BC, come to the Western Rubber tire recycling plant in Delta. Once the tires arrive at the plant, the tires are then recycled into two primary products, one is crumb rubber and colored bark mulch. All of the processing of the tires in BC occurs at Western Rubber. Majority of the crumb rubber then gets shipped to a manufacturer in Abbotsford, BC. And the crumb rubber is then used to make gym flooring, truck bed liners, horse mats, running tracks, and various other products.

As TSBC has been around for a long time, it has come a long way for tire recycling. There have been some major achievements which the program has achieved. In the early stages, when the tire recycling program was run by the government, it was underfunded which meant not being able to support manufacturers. TSBC has introduced a manufacturing incentive which involves supports manufacturing of recycling rubber in BC. There is a community grant program through TSBC which promotes the use and benefit of recycled tire products, and, providing financial support to communities that have decided to use recycled tire products for their projects. The grant program has been run since 2009, and to date close to $6 million dollars have been provided in grants, 320 projects using BC recycled rubber across the province in 94 communities throughout BC. Eligible applicants for the grant are not-for-profit organizations within the province of BC including: municipalities; registered non-profit community groups or organizations; schools, colleges, and universities; First Nations and Metis settlements. Moreover, some of the eligible projects could include, but are not limited to, playgrounds, water parks or fitness areas, walkways, running tracks, and playing fields. Moreover, the project has to use recycled tire products (e.g., rubber tile surfacing, pour in place surfacing) made in BC from BC recycled tires and it has to be fully pubic and wheelchair accessible. This is a matching grant which means the applicant must contribute and amount equal to or exceeding the requested amount, up to maximum grant of $30,000. Moreover, TSBC reserves the right to restrict the number of eligible projects in any one community, based on its population or for any one applicant. If one wants to apply for the community grant program, the process if very simplified as the link to the application is provided on the TSBC website and the application could easily be completed online. Another way TSBC has transformed the tire recycling program is that it provides education to its retailers and consumers.

TSBC has high ambitions and the shift is now from products being collected and recycled to having continuous improvements, how to become the best tire program in the world by partnering with Western Rubber. As Western Rubber is a forwarding thinking organization which is continually making investments in the operations and continue to look for efficiencies in their operations.

As BC is a big province, we are left to wonder how tire collections works in the various different communities, including the smaller rural communities. The retailers of tires all throughout BC are provided with pickup service. The small rural communities are provided with tire collection events in the rural communities. For First Nations, TSBC works with an organization called the First Nations Recycling Initiative, which are made up of different stewardship programs, one person represents TSBC and they go out and speak with the First Nations community about tire recycling and educating them on the tire collection program and how it works along with the purpose behind it. 

 Lastly, TSBC is a forward thinking agency and the big thing is about fostering innovation and research. To build on the success already achieved and trying to make sure the program remains sustainable. They are always striving towards finding the most efficient and economical ways to recycle tires while working with Western and Liberty tires and supporting their plans.

Stay tuned for our next edition as we will be speaking with the staff of Liberty Tires to gain more insight on their collection and recycling processes.  

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