Bicycle Tire Recycling in California
Though I am not an expert, Coco's Variety Bike Shop and Prop Rental has recycled bicycle tires for over 10 years and I have learned a few things along the way.
As I understand it, from the state of California, it is illegal to throw away any tire. There are no restrictions on throwing away tubes. We recycle both. Most people/shops throw them in the regular trash and I understand as it is a real pain to recycle them.
- If you are our customer, we will recycle your bicycle tires and tubes.
- We will not recycle any other type of tire or tube.
- If you have a bicycle shop, we will recycle your tubes and tires for $1 per tire and .50 per tube. This price assumes you bring them to us. (Updated: we can't do this. We would need to pick-up from you and you would need a waste tire generator license. We would need to discuss on a case by case basis.) This is a bad and expensive option for you, but I am really not in the bike tire recycling business.
Tires are recycled and used for a variety of uses including playground mats, mulch and as an additive or topping for asphalt. For the LA area, the largest tire recycler is, I believe, Crumb Rubber Manufacturing (CRM) in Compton, California. It is an impressive facility that has mountains of tires with corresponding giant forklift-able bags of crumb rubber - processed rubber that is the size of a split pea. Once, while riding the 2 with Angel, there were giant CRM crumb rubber bags at every turnout when they were sealing the pavement a few years ago. We enjoyed the irony of riding on asphalt made from our tires and kept climbing at slow but respectable pace.
Recycling Tires - Past
Up until 2 years ago, I was able to load a pick-up truck bed of tires and deliver them to CRM. They weigh the truck before and after and you pay an amount commensurate with the load. A completely stuffed bed of a Chevy Colorado with tubes and tires weighs about 600-800 pounds. CRM charges about $25-30 per load, so roughly $75 a ton. (Update: as of December 2018, non-truck tires are $79 a ton. Truck tires and mixed loads are $149 a ton, which I assume means one truck tire makes a mixed load.)
When we recycle tires, we are paying to recycle them. It isn't like we are getting a nickel for an aluminum can.
Then, 2 years ago, CRM stated that they would no longer accept the tires without a waste tire hauler permit.
Search for Service Provider
Hauling the tires to Compton was a huge pain in the neck, so I started the search for a service provider to pick-up like car tire stores use.
My local tire store referred me to an individual (I'll call Sam) that picked up their tires for .75 each. It turns out, Sam had a used car tire business, picked what he wanted from the waste tires and then recycled them. When I told Sam that I had a bike store, he declined the business and referred me to a tire recycler in the Valley. The recycler was actually next door to Sam.
This establishment declined to pick-up the tires but stated that they would take the tires if I brought them to their facility. It was no CRM. They baled the tires and then sent them overseas for recycling.
They wanted $150 per load of tires delivered to them and it became clear that they were charging a higher fee for ignoring the laws related to tire hauling. This was an untenable situation. I would have paid $150 but I was not interested committing fraud. When I googled the owner/business, it turns out they had already been fined for the state for doing exactly what they were suggesting to me.
How to Find a Hauler (or Not Find One)
For a certified waste tire hauler to pick up your tires, you need to become a licensed waste tire generator. The state goal is to have a chain of custody and responsibility for waste tires. The hauler's job - besides hauling the tires - is to shoulder the responsibility for documenting this chain of custody. They can only pick-up from licensed generators and can only drop off at licensed end use facilities.
Before waste tire haulers would talk to me, I needed a waste tire generator license. As I recall, it was free to register.
With my new tire program identification (TPID) number, I used the hauler database and started calling haulers.
To say the very least, they were not interested. Here is what I should have learned when talking to Sam - the haulers are making money two different ways. They are charging the waste tire generators a pick-up fee but then they are also cherry picking the best tires from the waste and using/selling them on the used market.
To pick-up bike tires removes one of those income streams. The few that said they would pick them up said that they would charge me $3 per tire and $1 per tube.
I never found a hauler that would pick-up bike tires.
No Good Deed
So, I was in a pickle, as I couldn't find a hauler. We tried for months. But! I did have a waste tire generator license and as such I had a visit from a state inspector to look at our records and inspect our waste tires. I explained our conundrum finding a hauler and they agreed that they had never heard of a bike store registering as a waste tire generator or contracting with a hauler.
Coco's Variety - Waste Tire Hauler
We had no option but to register as a hauler. If you transport more than 10 tires, you need to be a registered hauler. If you are going to haul your own tires, you need to register as a waste tire generator and as a waster tire hauler.
To become a hauler, the license is free and you need to renew it each year. There are some tricky aspects though.
- $5000 bond - I am not even sure what the bond is supposed to cover. I got mine for $110 from speedysuretybonds.com.
- You need to identify your hauling vehicle, but you can request a temporary permit for another vehicle. For example, you could rent a box van and use the temporary permit. When you apply, you can ask for a temporary permit, but they only give you one.
We are now a registered hauler.
Tire Fires - Why this Program Exists!
In 1998, a grass fire ignited 7 million tires at the unlicensed S.F. Royster Tire Disposal Facility in Tracy, California. It was extinguished, after 26 months, with water and foam in December 2000.
In 1999, lightening struck a tire dump in Westley, Calfornia which burned for 30 days. Pyrolitic oil flowed into a nearby stream and also ignited.
These events became the impetus for this onerous but necessary program for car tires. Bunch of other crazy tire fire stories on wikipedia.
Laws Need to Address Bike Tires
Bike tires are different. I estimate we generate 2 tons of waste tires and tubes a year - and we are a small shop. That is three pick-up truck bed loads of tires hauled to Compton a year. I think that bicycle stores should be able to store and haul their own bike tires to end use facilities. I believe you should get a waste tire generator license, follow best practices for storage and be subject to inspection. Of course, some bike stores would cry and I understand.
FAQ - Can I write you with questions about tire recycling?
Please don't. Cal Recycle is super helpful at (866) 896-0600. They can answer all questions about the program.
FAQ - Can I write you and thank you? Or let you know you got something wrong?
FAQ - Can't I take tires to LA County Round Up events?
Yes, but they will only take ten tires. If you show up with 50 bike tires and explain it is still less volume than 10 car tires, will they take them? Don't know.
FAQ - Are you sure you can't get a service to pick them up?
No, I am not sure. And if you find someone that can do it legally, for recycling and at a reasonable price, let us know.
FAQ - Why doesn't my trash company or the city care?
Well, it is 'just a bike tire.' I have a different perspective as I saw what a 2 year pile of tires looks like. We accumulated a lot while we tried to figure out a solution.
Here is a fun story that small business owners will appreciate it.
Up until about 6 months ago, businesses were able to select their own trash service and you could shop competitively for the best service and price. The city awarded all commercial trash collection to about 6 companies and split the city into 6 monopolies. The price just about doubled and your ability to select the best companies from the free market disappeared. It was an epic debacle and a little googling will reveal what a disaster it was.
As part of this new process, we have a trash cop. Guy shows up and looks through your trash can to tell you how to separate recycling. We can't get a cop to show up, but we have a trash cop. I asked him about bike tires. "Oh, you can just throw those in the regular can."
FAQ - We want to recycle our tires. Can you share best practices that you have learned for tire recycling?
Yes. There are lots of do's and don'ts in the process that we have learned to make it easier.
- In short, recyclers only want rubber.
- They will recycle tires, tubes, thornless tubes, rubber rim strips. They have not balked about colored rubber or gumwalls.
- They don't want slime, stans, any sealant, non rubber rim strips, tubular tires that are 'silks' or cloth based, tire liner, bar tape or grips. Even if it is a rubber tire but has a super crumbly fabric-y sidewall like an old gumwall, I don't recycle it. I am trying to really keep as clean of a stream as possible as I am always fearful that Crumb Rubber is going to stop taking bike tires and tubes if it is too much of a hassle. They don't have to take bike tires as they are not a government entity that is serving the public good. They have a business and as soon as it doesn't make business sense to take the bike tires and tubes, they may stop taking them. Believe me, a pick-up bed of bike tires and tubes stands out like crazy against the pile of car and truck tires.
- For effective packing, the tubes need to be cut. We generally cut the valve and throw that in metal recycling.
- Tires are grouped in bunches of 10-12 and ziptied super tight and compact at 12 and 6 o'clock or ideally add 3 and 9 o'clock too. I leave them ziptied, but can envision a future when I have to cut them for transport.
- The tubes must be separated from the tires. The volume of a partially inflated tube still in a tire versus a cut tube and compressed tire is a HUGE delta. Probably 4 times the volume.
- Keep them dry. We did not accomplish this and it was miserable.
- Keep it rubber and trash free. This is surprisingly difficult. Even though we know how it works, there is always loose hardware, old zip ties, tubes with a stuck on tire liner, etc and all those exceptions are a pain in the neck.
FAQ - Why is this page so ugly?
The Shopify page editor is terrible.