The Environmental Impact Of Tire Manufacturing And Usage

The Environmental Impact Of Tire Manufacturing And Usage

Some recent statistics showed that around 2 million tons of tire particles are accumulated yearly in the USA. These particles are the result of tire wear while driving. These numbers are frightening, in fact, and represent a serious threat to the environment.

Let's dwell more on this topic and see the risks and possible ways to minimize them. Each of us is not only a driver, but also a responsible citizen with civil obligations.

Where do the 2 million tons come from?

These 2 million do not refer to the used tires that drivers often throw in landfills. They refer more specifically to tires that serve their purpose day by day. That is, while you are driving the car, the tires leave small flecks on the road while braking, accelerating, or turning. These small particles do not disappear by themselves. Wind, rain, or any natural phenomenon blows them in different directions.

As a result, they end up directly in culverts, ditches, or water channels. Once they reach small water channels, they drain into larger channels, eventually reaching rivers and seas' tributaries. It is not difficult to conclude that following this "route", the small particles of the tires end up in the plankton of many fish that end up directly on your dinner table. I bet you never thought you could find non-degradable rubber particles in the shrimp in your Caesar salad.

According to experts...

Tire pollution does not begin when drivers throw it into landfills after it has served its purpose. It actually affects the environment during its lifetime. This means that the tire distributes microparticles in proportion to 30% of its entire composition throughout its "life". These particles deposit both on the surface of the roads and their adjacent areas. Specialists have estimated that these deposits accumulate an average of approximately 2 million tons of residues. Add to these numbers the tires dumped in landfills, and we're in a completely toxic environment.

The small particles that tires release along the way are nothing more than small plastic elements. And as everyone knows, plastic is one of the most widespread forms of environmental pollution. They are so small that you practically cannot see them with the naked eye. Unfortunately, they are so abundant around the world that they have already seriously affected certain biological chains in nature.

For example, studies have shown that microplastic particles directly cause problems associated with oyster reproduction. In the same context, specialists noticed shore crabs "eating" microplastic particles turn into sloths. Some sources divulge an even more pessimistic scenario in which an imposing number of grass shrimp die due to particle ingestion.


The impact of tire decomposition while riding is unfortunately very poorly studied. Specialists conduct extremely few investigations to estimate the extent of this pollution segment as clearly as possible. Scientists currently consider that the damage caused by tires constitutes about 10% of the total damage caused by plastic at the global level. In some of the United States, statistics show that tires in use constitute about 90% of the total microplastic litter. And that is truly frightening.

For now, studies on the specific impact of tires on aquatic life are far too vague. Specialists only know that creatures such as crabs and shrimps eat these particles and remain unprocessed in their digestive system. It seems that the size of the particles does not really matter because the impact is similar to both smaller and larger particles. At the present time, experts in the field are investigating what amount of microplastic is lethal for aquatic living things.

Not only the microplastic in tires is dangerous

Specialists fear that not only the plastic in tires presents a danger. Considering that the composition of a tire also includes oil-based chemicals, the danger is even more imminent. This means that in addition to the plastic components, the tires contain zinc and other heavy metals, all together forming hydrocarbons. Once they reach the digestive system of the animals that eat them, they produce a very toxic effect.
And taking into account that these creatures (crabs, shrimps, etc.) end up on our dinner tables, we literally eat a tissue soaked with the toxic components of hydrocarbons.

The positive side of things is that no human has presented health problems that would be hypothetically related to the consumption of these products. The negative part of the scenario is that no one even investigates this aspect. Experts do not exclude that these particles could release toxic components into the human body. However, no one is taking care of the study, and the risk remains unknown.

Solving the problem is very difficult

On one hand, everyone including governments understands that the risk of using tires is an eminent one. On the other hand, the issue does not have a clear and immediate solution. I mean, a potential solution would be to ban the use of tires. But, you realize that it doesn't sound realistic at all.

A potential solution would be a tire that does not wear at all and leaves no residue. However, this solution is not even half feasible for now. Possibly, the tires of the future that are considered to be airless tires may bring benefits in this regard. However, we know too little about this subject for now.

Like it or not, tire usage has a considerable negative impact on the environment. And the bad part of things is that there are very few organizations that would investigate the problem in depth to offer some solutions. In the meantime, it is important to be aware as citizens, at least, of this global problem. Social awareness is often a good start.

What about tire production?

Not only tire usage leads to a negative impact on the environment. The production process is also not risk-free. In an ideal scenario, it would be extremely good for the tires to be made of 100% natural rubber. This type of rubber is much more eco-friendly. However, manufacturers also use synthetic rubber in the production of modern tires.

Either way, both rubber types have a certain negative impact on the environment. First of all, natural rubber is obtained from a certain type of trees. Respectively, it implies deforestation to obtain the necessary amount of raw material. Along with deforestation, a chain of ecological changes occurs, including climate changes.

Another no less dangerous aspect is the risk to which those who work in the production of tires submit. People in the field are exposed to large amounts of contaminants that tires release into the air. Even if the people in the field are usually properly equipped, the small particles still end up in the respiratory tract. As a result, the workers can fall ill with acute respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.

Do tire manufacturers take action?

I know that the environmental impact scenario is not really positive. But there is also a positive side to all this history. Tire manufacturers are not indifferent to the impact on the environment. Many companies are actively involved in minimizing the harmful effects or somehow compensating them.

Some companies producing tires are actively involved in their reuse. They create recycling programs, facilitating the process for a driver to return used tires for their second life.

Other manufacturers seriously focus on components, opting for low-carbon footprint materials and looking for continuous solutions to reduce CO2 emissions.

Another category of tire manufacturers takes tire environmental impact seriously and tries to compensate for the air pollution by frequent and massive tree planting.

Final thoughts

The gratifying part is that those who impact the environment are also those who seek constant solutions to minimize the impact. Of course, these actions are still not enough for now. But, until a definite and safe solution is found, we can only be grateful for involvement and awareness. With this in mind, I hope that optimal solutions will appear as soon as possible.

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