It’s been a long time and a lot of tires. Earlier this week, the CBC reported on what may be the most torturous effort to face the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board — the disposal of millions of stockpiled tires.
The MMSB started diverting the tires from the province’s waste sites years ago so that they would instead be recycled, but while the idea was a commendable one, the delivery didn’t work so well. In fact, even now, the tires aren’t exactly recycled: they are being shipped to Quebec to be used as fuel in cement kilns, a process that will end up costing something like $4.3 million to address the province’s existing tire stockpiles alone. The largest? Almost 2 million tires stored near Placentia — there are still hundreds of thousands of them left, but the MMSB told the CBC that they expect the last of the tires to be gone by next spring.
After that, tires will continue to leave the province, but the hazards and expense of stockpiling them will be a thing of the past.
The long and torturous road for the road rubber, though, could be used as an object lesson in how good intentions can be crippled by not paying close enough attention to the details.
The province announced it was going to start recycling the tires in 2002, adding a $3 fee to the cost of every passenger car tire sold in the province. But just two years in, the contractor who was supposed to be recycling the tires terminated its contract, leaving the province not only with a tire stockpile, but with more tires coming in every day.
There is value in used tires, but part of the problem is that this province is at the end of the line, transportation-wise. Getting tires back out of the province means paying for shipping — and there have been numerous hiccups in finding buyers. An effort to burn the tires for fuel at the Corner Brook paper mill fell victim to public opposition, and while there may be things to do with crumb rubber from tires, the best we’ve been able to find is to use them as fuel.
You can call burning the tires recycling, but it’s a bit of stretch. True, they generate energy, but not in the most environmentally sound way. They’re simply burned instead of buried, so perhaps we should think of the whole effort more as safe disposal than as an environmentally responsible way of dealing with this particular form of waste.
It’s been expensive and long-running — but hopefully, also a learning experience for politicians who may have good intentions but uniformed plans. It can make for an expensive misstep — sometimes, missteps costing millions of dollars and resulting in more than 11 years of stockpiled used rubber.
Next time, maybe the provincial government should think more clearly about how a product can be recycled in a financially and environmentally responsible way, and less about the political optics of a quick decision.