RECYCLING: Tire Cleanup Program Rolls Through Jersey

Keeping rural New Jersey clean has meant collecting tons of debris from roadsides, fragile wetlands and forests.

Most of the waste is construction material, including old toilets, scrap drywall and shingles. But a surprising amount of the waste has been tires. Of the 300 tons amassed during two years in the Logan Township, tires accounted for approximately 80 tons, or nearly a quarter of the waste.

During those two years, Bill Teter was recycling program coordinator for Logan Township, responsible for disposing of the tons of tires. Today, Teter oversees solid waste and recycling for three southwestern New Jersey municipalities. Given his responsibilities, Teter devised a cost-effective, cooperative recycling plan that allows municipalities to pool their tire stockpiles and sell them to a recycler. This process saves money and shortens the time needed to collect a truckload of tires and sell them.

In the northern third of New Jersey, where two-thirds of the state's population lives, tire recycling usually is handled by auto repair shops and tire dealers. Rarely are old tires abandoned on the busy highways that carry commuters into New York City. However, in rural parts of the state, people are more likely to discard tires by secretly dumping them.

"You have a lot of large open spaces in South Jersey, which would lend itself to someone having a truckload [of trash] and pulling off the road and dumping it someplace," says Frank T. Peluso, section chief of New Jersey's Bureau of Recycling and Planning.

That's exactly what Teter found. "We were cleaning up a lot of illegal dump sites," he says. "They'd just drive into the woods or on the side of the road ... or alongside the wetlands [and toss debris]."

Landfills didn't want to take the old tires because they float to the top of landfills and also trap water. The area's solid waste incinerator refused to take the 30 tons of tires gathered in the cleanup's first year. So, Teter began shopping around for recycling facilities, recalling, "It was the only way I could move them out in that volume."

Soon, Teter realized that neighboring municipalities could save money by sharing the cost of recycling. He dubbed the program, which got its start in 1994, Public Sector Cooperative Voluntary Cooperative Shared Pricing and Services Program, or PUBSECO VCSPS. Participating towns split the cost of shipping the tires, based on the percentage of tires each contributes.

"The main advantage to this program is that instead of [municipalities] waiting to get enough tires to ship cost-effectively, it allows tires to be shipped faster by not letting them accumulate for long periods of time," Teter wrote in an explanation of the program.

Peluso said Teter's focus on problem-solving makes him, "One of the more motivated and energetic recycling coordinators in the state."

Also, to keep the program's cost down, Teter arranged to have county prisoners load the tires.

This year, New Jersey's state recycling effort hopes to begin a project that also would use prisoners to help clean up between 5 million and 10 million tires abandoned throughout the state. In total, the project would eradicate 16 massive tire piles and find markets for them, perhaps as fuel or landfill liner after they are chipped, Peluso says.

However, Teter's project operates on a much smaller scale. Towns, counties, auto repair shops, tire dealers and trucking companies can recycle almost any kind of tire, including those used on bicycles, airplanes, off-road vehicles and tractors, as well as tubes and liners. The municipality that agrees to "host" the collection site receives a discounted fee.

The collected tires are shipped in batches of 300 and most are sold to two recyclers. Selling to recyclers costs far less than disposing of tires in other ways, in part because the municipalities don't have to purchase expensive equipment to shred or strip the used tires.

Between 1994 and 1998, the cooperative program saved participants approximately $50,000 in car tire disposal costs and more than $4,000 in truck tire disposal costs, Teter says. The program has lost only about $174 in the disposal of off-road tires, but overall, it has recycled more than 220 tons of tires.

The program also has produced savings. For example, in 1999, the five participating municipalities recycled 25.59 tons of car tires, saving $7,706, and 0.15 tons of truck tires, which saved $35.

"The goal, obviously, is it does not cost more money than disposal," Teter says.

For the most part, the arrangement has run smoothly, though not everyone is as enthusiastic about recycling as Teter. The program was suspended briefly in Harrison Township in 1998 when residents objected to hosting the collection site. Opposition did not fade even when residents learned that the program saved municipalities money, Teter says.

Swedesboro, N.J., with about 800 residents, has hosted the tire recycling site since mid-1998.

According to Peluso, it's "relatively unusual" for municipalities to coordinate tire recycling programs, especially in New Jersey. Although the small program has met some citizen opposition, Teter says it remains a cost-effective way for small government to enjoy the benefits of a recycling program.

For more information about Teter's cooperative tire recycling program, e-mail him at [email protected]