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Grant helps Lafarge Alpena tackle state’s scrap tire problem

News Photo by Julie Riddle Scrap tires partially fill a truck at the Alpena Resource Recovery facility in June.

ALPENA — Michigan has a scrap tire problem, but Alpena could contribute to the solution.

By mid-2023, Alpena could rid the state of one-fifth of the 10 million scrap tires Michiganders produce each year by allowing Lafarge Alpena to burn 2 million tires a year to heat kilns used in the cement-making process.

The Legislature approved a $3 million grant through the state’s Scrap Tire Regulatory Fund to cover half the cost of the equipment needed to burn tires whole, according to Kirstin Clemens, scrap tire coordinator for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

Most companies burning tires as fuel require chipped tires, but Lafarge’s kiln sizes allow the plant to burn whole tires, eliminating processing costs. No one has to remove steel belts within the tires before burning, as at other businesses, because Lafarge can add the metal to cement to strengthen the end product, Clemens said.

Lafarge already uses filtration equipment to meet state and federal standards to protect against emission of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and other chemicals of concern when burning tires, according to Melissa Byrnes, the environmental engineer specialist for EGLE’s Air Quality Division who reviewed Lafarge’s application for the project.

News Photo by Julie Riddle The remains of burned tires fill a container after a fire at a transfer station in Alpena in May.

The project will reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce Lafarge’s carbon footprint, and keep tires from sitting in unsightly — and potentially harmful to the environment — piles, according to Alpena Plant Manager Jeff Scott.

In Michigan, several power plants use chipped tires as fuel — including Viking Energy in Lincoln, which used about 1 million tires in 2020.

STOCKPILES TO BOOT TRAYS

In the meantime, Michigan drivers continue to create new scrap tires, as state agencies try to keep up.

Motorists and companies recycled three of every four scrap tires in the U.S. in 2019, according to a report issued in October by the U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Stan Mischley, facility manager at the Alpena Resource Recovery facility, last month adds a tire to a pile destined for a processor.

However, six years before, nearly all scrap tires were recycled.

The change reflects not a decrease in recycling, but an increase in the number of scrap tires generated each year, according to the report.

More than 55 million scrap tires remain in stockpiles around the country — mostly in Michigan and seven other states, the report said — even after EGLE’s scrap tire program found and cleaned up 35 million tires since 1991.

The program’s cleanup grants — including $9,000 given to Alpena County this year to support tire collection events — help keep those piles from growing. Supported by $1.50 Michigan vehicle title transfer fees, the fund also backed tire collection events in Alcona and Presque Isle counties for at least the last several years.

Residents dropped off 3,500 tires at a May 1 collection conducted by the Alpena Resource Recovery facility, according to facility Manager Stan Mischley.

Tires collected at the event — free for residents for the first 10 tires — went to a processor in Flint that chips tires as fuel or to replace sand, gravel, and stone in road, construction, and other projects.

The Alpena Resource Recovery facility takes tires the rest of the year, as well, but residents must pay to cover the cost to recycle them. Dropoff costs $2 for a standard tire or $45 for tractor tires that take up extra space in a truckload.

In addition to construction material, scrap tire processors turn tires into mulch products such as landscaping borders and boot trays, Clemens, of EGLE, said. Metal recovered from tires finds new life as parts of vehicles and other products.

HEALTH HAZARD

Tires that don’t reach processors, however, not only provide a breeding ground for illness-carrying insects, but also pose a health hazard if they burn — releasing toxic smoke, carrying chemicals into the ground, and feeding a fire not easily extinguished by water or foam, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

A pile of tires burned during a fire at the Greenway transfer facility in Alpena in May. Greenway, an Alpena garbage removal service, complied with state regulations and inspections did not identify any additional threat from the fire, according to John Ozoga, assistant district supervisor for the EGLE Materials Management Division, who inspected the facility in recent years.

The tires burned intensely after the rest of the fire was under control, however, and firefighters at the scene expressed concern about putting the tire fire out.

A 1995 fire in Grand Traverse County kept a 30-foot pile of scrap tires burning for several weeks, causing the closure of a nearby school and the evacuation of residents.

That fire gave momentum to the state’s scrap tire collection program, which targets stockpiles such as a pile of 3 million tires once located north of Kalamazoo, Clemens said.

Callers to the scrap tire program sometimes report 20 tires in need of cleanup, apologizing for the large number, Clemens said.

“To us, 100,000 tires is starting to be a lot,” she said. “It’s a matter of scale.”

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