California Hands Out $5M in Grants to Give Old Tires New Use

California Hands Out $5M in Grants to Give Old Tires New Use

Drivers in California will get a second chance to cruise over their old tires, as the state recently agreed to pay out $5.3 million to a number of cities for pavement material that will be, literally, where the rubber meets the road.

The state recently agreed to split the grant money with more than 40 communities to pay for a rubber-mix road surface made mostly from used tires. The cities, get their road surfaces for free, one of the state’s initiatives for recycling old tires through the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). 

Lance Klug, public information officer for CalRecycle, says state residents go through about 44 million tires per year. His office handles recycling for the state, including beverage container and used oil recycling. And it also tackles tires, piles of which used to dot the landscape throughout the country.

“Most people remember the rash of tire pile fires that burned throughout the country about two decades ago. We had them in landfills, or people just used to chuck them in fields or waterways,” Klug says. “That’s when CalRecycle stepped up and took on the issue. Now, for every tire sold, $1 goes to us to fund recycling efforts. We’re now able to divert most of the tires, about 38 million, to better uses.”

For these grants, the state will pay a processor to create a pavement material using crumb rubber, which is basically ground-up tires and similar to the material now used on sports fields. Processors remove about 99 percent of the non-rubber material, and produce a fine mesh crumb rubber product, about 11 pounds of material for each tire. Crumb rubber can also be used to make railroad ties, portable speed bumps and even weightlifting plates.

Klug says the cities like the material because it lasts 50 percent longer than traditional concrete, and less material is required, resulting in faster road repairs. A 2-inch thick coating uses about 2,000 tires per mile, Klug says.

Cities in the counties of Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Jaoquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Clara, Sutter and Ventura received the grants, up to $250,000 each. The cities include Cupertino, San Jose, Oceanside, Riverside, Pasadena, San Dimas and Rancho Cucamonga.

Oceanside received largest grant, at almost $400,000, but only because CalRecycle this year allowed communities to submit joint grant applications. Oceanside is sharing the funds with the neighboring city of Vista. Gabor Pakozdi, an associate engineer for the city, said in a staff report the funds will help repair the streets of Rancho del Oro, Douglas Drive, Oceanside Boulevard and El Camino. 

“The city of Oceanside already uses rubberized asphalt concrete for its street overlay program, and the past experience with this material has been positive,” Pakozdi wrote in a report to the City Council. “The material is durable as conventional asphalt, and tends to reduce noise from vehicle tires rolling on the road surface.”

Arizona pioneered the use of rubberized pavement, and since then states such as California, Florida, Texas and South Carolina have been using the product, with current estimates of about 200 million pounds of use per year. Other states such as Michigan, Colorado and Washington are examining their potential use.

A recent concern, however, has been the examination by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of crumb rubber’s potential as a cancer-causing agent, specifically in its use as sports field cover. Other studies have shown that stormwater picks up elevated chemical levels after passing through crumb rubber.

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