The recycling process converts end of life or unwanted materials into new products with new or similar functions. Elastomers are rubbery materials with an elastic property. Elastomers can be recycled in various ways after the original product has reached end of life.
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An example of a product that reaches end of life and goes through a recycling process are tires. Tires become unwanted when they have become worn down to the point of no longer being safe for road travel, or after irreparable damage has occurred. There are three large markets for scrap tires, they include: tire-derived fuel, civil engineering applications, and ground rubber applications/rubberized asphalt.
Around 117 million end of life tires were utilized as Tire-derived fuel in 2015. Tire-derived fuels are a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels, if proper regulatory controls are in place. Scrap tires have a high heating value and are sought after for this property for use in cement kilns as well as other industrial applications. Tires produce the same amount of energy as oil and 25% more energy than coal. The ash residues from Tire-derived fuels may contain a lower heavy metals content than some coals. NOx emissions are also lower compared to many US coals, particularly high-sulfur coals.
Civil engineering applications consumed 17 million old tires in 2015. These applications can replace other materials such as polystyrene insulation blocks, drainage aggregate, or other types of fill. A significant amount of materials used in civil engineering applications have come from stockpiled tires.
Ground rubber usage consumed 62 million tires in 2015. Ground rubber is used to manufacture many products, including: asphalt rubber, synthetic sports field underlay, animal bedding, and many more. The largest use of these is asphalt rubber utilizing around 12 million tires annually. California and Arizona are the largest users of asphalt rubber. Other uses for ground rubber are for groundcover under playgrounds, anti-fatigue mats, running tracks, animal bedding, underlay and infill for athletic fields, and equestrian footing.
Tires must go through a recycling process before it can be reused for other products/uses. Most tires are collected from retailers when they are changed out for new tires, they are then sold to processing plants to prepare them for their long journey ahead. The tires contain steel wire to make them stronger, this wire must be removed before the rubber is recycled. Tires are cut into small pieces and treated with chemicals to create fine granules.
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