What Are the Environmental Impacts of Throwing Away Tires?

Jul 2, 2020 | Go Green

Tires represent a serious environmental concern on several fronts. Part of the risk lies with their chemical makeup. Toxins released from tire decomposition, incineration or accidental fires can pollute the water, air and soil. While 42 states regulate tire disposal to some degree, eight states have no restrictions on what you must do with your discarded tires. Even with laws in place, illegal dumping still occurs, presenting negative environmental impacts. Continue reading to learn about the effects of waste tires.

scrap tires in a field

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that while tires make up less than 2 percent of total municipal solid waste, nearly 5 million tons of tire waste was generated in 2007 alone; on average, only about 35 percent of rubber from tires is recycled. This means millions of tons of tire waste goes into already overcrowded landfills — only 11 states ban all tire waste in landfills. Technology has helped with this issue a bit, by making tires smaller and more durable, so more tires are repurposed with fewer ending up in landfills.

Toxin Release

The EPA classifies tires as municipal solid waste rather than hazardous waste. Nevertheless, tires that are thrown away instead of recycled can cause serious environmental problems. The issues arise when the chemicals they contain are released into the environment — the breakdown of tires releases hazardous wastes. Tires contain oils that contaminate the soil; they also consist of heavy metals such as lead, that can persist in the environment and accumulate over time.

Fire Risk

Another major concern of discarded tires is increased fire risk. When heated, tires become a fuel source. In fact, nearly 50 percent of recycled scrap tires find a second life in fuel generation. Fires fueled by tires can be more difficult to control and extinguish. In addition, the smoke contains toxic chemicals and particulate matter that poses human health consequences, such as a worsening of existing respiratory conditions.

Pest Threat

Discarded tires present another environmental risk that may not be as obvious as waste generation. Tires can collect water and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests. This effect can, in turn, increase the risk for vector-borne diseases such as encephalitis. Rodents may also find habitat in tires. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends removing discarded tires from your property because of these possible health hazards.