The worldwide recycling rate for tires is only 50 percent. That’s not a horrible number, but Michelin thinks we could do better and announced ambitious goals at the recent Movin’ On mobility conference held in Montreal, Canada.
Its goal is to have its tires made with 80 percent sustainable materials and to have 100 percent of all tires recycled by 2048. Not just Michelin tires. ALL TIRES. The timeframe may seem long at 30 years, but Michelin aimed to be realistic in their estimates about how quickly they can accomplish these goals.
Today, Michelin tires are made using only 28 percent sustainable materials. It breaks down into 26 percent bio-sourced materials like natural rubber and sunflower oil and 2 percent recycled materials like steel and old tires. The plan to get to 80 percent includes research programs and partnerships to develop advanced technologies and materials.
Michelin is working with Biobutterfly, a program launched in 2012 to create synthetic elastomers from things like wood, straw, and beets. They also acquired Lehigh, which specializes in Micronized Rubber Powders (MRP) made from recycled tires.
MRP replaces oil and rubber in all sorts of products from feedstock to tires, construction materials to consumer goods. This might be a project designed to decrease the environmental impact of tires, but its positive effects will be felt in a multitude of industries.
Where Michelin can control the sustainable content of its tires, the 100 percent recycling goal for all tires extends beyond simply the tires Michelin produces. Of all the end of life tires generated every year, about 20 percent are recovered and turned into energy while 50 percent are recovered and recycled into new products.
The effect of meeting these goals is more easily put into perspective when you look at the savings:
- 33 million barrels of oil saved every year (that’s 16.5 supertankers)
- One month’s total energy consumption in France
- 65 billion kilometers driven by the average sedan
- Every car in Europe driving 225 kilometers
Achieving 100 percent recycling and 80 percent sustainable materials go hand-in-hand. Last year, Michelin announced the Vision concept tire. This airless tire is made entirely of bio-sourced and recycled products with a biodegradable tread that can be renewed with a 3D printer. This type of product is a key way Michelin hopes to achieve its goals by 2048.
While companies like Michelin do their part to lessen the impact of tires on the environment, the public has its own responsibility. You can’t avoid changing your tires, but you can have them regularly inspected to ensure you’re replacing them at the right time rather than too early and creating unnecessary waste. It’s also important to dispose of tires properly helping them become part of that recycling number.
Through research and partnerships with innovative companies, Michelin hopes to make sustainably-sourced tires that are easily recycled the new standard.