Tires: A successful waste diversion story

In 1991, British Columbia (B.C.) became the first province in Canada (and North America) to launch a used tire management program to incentivize scrap rubber processors and others to recycle old tires and keep them out of landfill.

Fast-forward thirty years and nearly every Canadian province as well as one territory has followed suit, developing province-wide regulated programs to manage end-of-life tires. Most programs include passenger and light-truck (PLT) tires as well as medium truck (MT) tires, and some programs also include off-the-road (OTR) tires.

As a result of these initiatives, over 421,000 tonnes of tires were collected for recycling or energy recovery in Canada in 2019 (latest data year), for a diversion rate of 89%.  

Figure 1 Brief Historical Overview of Tire Program Start-up Timelines in Canada 

Current tire programs in Canada 

Seven of Canada’s eleven tire recycling programs are run by government, or a delegated agency or crown corporation on behalf of government (Alberta, Yukon, Quebec, and all four of the Atlantic provincial programs). These programs follow a user fee model where fees on new tires are charged to consumers at point of sale and are used to fund collection, transportation and recycling costs for the tire management programs. The other four tire programs (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario) are operated using an extended producer responsibility (EPR) program model where industry is obligated by law to manage tires at end of life.  

All tire programs across Canada currently include passenger and light truck tires, as well as medium truck and bus tires. Approximately half of the provinces include agricultural, while more than half include industrial tires of different types and some off-the-road tires. 

Tire recycling end-markets

Crumb rubber is re-manufactured into new products such as coloured landscaping mulch, athletic tracks and synthetic turf fields, playground rubber bases to cushion from falls, and flooring and mats for agricultural and industrial use. In the production of tire-derived products (TDP), the steel is extracted from tires and is recycled, and the fibre is directed to a cement kiln for energy recovery if this is available in the province and allowed. Some provinces, like British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario, have mature end-markets that produce new products from TDP while others export the material to other end-markets after they produce it.  

Tire-Derived Aggregate (TDA) is produced in many tire programs across the country and is typically used in construction and engineering projects as a substitute for gravel. It can be used as a durable and frost inhibiting material in the construction of roads, as light-weight fill for highway embankments and retaining walls, as a drainage material in a wide variety of public works and municipal infrastructure projects. It also has many uses in landfill situations such as in leachate drainage, cover systems, and for capping material for landfills that are being permanently closed.  The engineering properties of TDA are technologically proven and often superior to traditional sources of construction aggregate and meet all environmental standards when properly designed and applied. 

Tire-derived fuel (TDF) is used in cement kilns, pulp and paper mills, and electric utilities. The production of TDF displaces the use of fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, which are significant contributors to GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. In 2019, the TDF market used about 30,448 tonnes of scrap tires, accounting for 8% of total annual scrap tire generation. Some provinces have multiple end markets for tires including TDP, TDA, as well as TDF. Ontario is the only province that currently prohibits the use of TDF.   

Figure 2 Markets for Recycled Tires in Canada (2019) (Tonnes) 

Positive economic impacts

Canada’s used tire management programs generate many positive employment impacts. In Alberta, there are approximately 230 people directly employed as a result of the province’s tire recycling program. Estimated employment figures per 1,000 tonnes of tires recycled in Alberta are as follows: the program generates 1.1 jobs/1,000 tonnes in collection, 1.5 jobs/1,000 tonnes in transportation, 2.9 jobs/1,000 tonnes in processing, and 1.3 jobs/1,000 jobs in downstream manufacturing.   

Canada’s tire programs also generate positive economic impacts in terms of GDP and cost savings for municipalities. A 2016 economic impact study of Nova Scotia’s tire recycling program found that recycling used tires saves $1.9 million in collection costs annually, and $0.7 million in municipal landfill-related costs. The program has also been responsible for adding over $4.1 million to the province’s economy each year, and over $60 million since the program began. A similar study in B.C. estimates that the province’s tire program reduces waste collection and landfilling costs by $2.0-$4.4 million.x  

On the horizon

There are a number of technological innovations and trends on the horizon. Divert NS supports a tire reuse project in partnership with Ballam Farms Limited, where whole tires are being split using a portable shear technology and sold across Atlantic Provinces to secure silage cover. In 2020, the project found a reuse market for approximately 2,500 Passenger and Light Truck tires and approximately 1,600 Tractor Trailer tires. 

At a national level, there is currently a LCA study underway by CATRA to evaluate the environmental performance of different recycling programs across provinces. The study will compare the environmental benefits of end use markets and look at the effect of additional end-use options of interest, for example, asphalt, pyrolysis, devulcanization, and re-treading.  

An environmental success story 

With an average diversion rate over the past 10 years of 98%, tire recycling in Canada is an environmental success story that others can aspire to and learn from.  Key elements of success involve good regulations with clear goals, targets, responsibilities and governance requirements, and providing market incentives to encourage innovation and contribute to a circular economy.   

Samantha Millette is owner of Millette Environmental, a small, environmental consulting firm based in Timmins, Ontario. Maria Kelleher is an environmental engineer and principal of Kelleher Environmental, a consulting firm based in Toronto. Laurie Giroux is owner and senior consultant at Giroux Environmental Consulting, an Ottawa-based environmental consulting company.