Waste Tire Management in Montana

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Montana generates a little less than one million waste tires each year. 

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Tires are considered a “component part” of a motor vehicle. Waste tires are those that cannot be used for their original intended purpose and are discarded. Waste tires are a Group III solid waste and are not classified as hazardous waste. Tire disposal is governed by the Solid Waste Management Act, (75-10-201, MCA), and associated Administrative Rules of Montana, (Title 17, Chapter 50, Sub-parts 4 & 5).

Waste tires are not easily disposed of and can accumulate quickly. Problems can occur when tires are stockpiled.

Special solid waste management programs are often created in some states to deal with waste tires because of these two issues and problems that occur when tires are stockpiled. Many states have made it a priority to clean up abandoned tire stockpiles, employing creative ways to use or recycle waste tires. Some states have banned tires from landfill disposal and therefore must have well-established markets for waste tires or risk more abandoned tires. Still other states have established fees on tire sales to create special funds to eliminate abandoned tire stockpiles or fund recycling efforts.

The 1997 Montana Legislature passed a law establishing financial assurance requirements for new waste tire recycling or disposal facilities (MCA 75-10-216). Legislators in that session also directed the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) to conduct a study to determine whether a comprehensive policy regarding waste tire management was needed.

The Environmental Quality Council's 1998 study found that "At this time, Montana does not have a problem with waste tire management which is significant enough to warrant statewide policy changes in the current situation." (Status of and Alternatives for the Management of Waste Tires in Montana: Report to the 56th Legislature; 1998.)

The study recognized that there were potential problems associated with waste tire management, that Montana's problems were not severe enough for policy changes, and that the issue required continued attention. The study went on to recommend the state "…continue to support agency efforts to assist in the development and analysis of alternative waste tire management solutions…"

What did study participants consider?

Recognizing the potential for problems managing Montana's waste tires, participants evaluated several proactive policy changes, such as banning tires from landfills, creating a special waste tire management fund or establishing additional regulations.

The study looked at the number of waste tires generated, the number landfilled, the amount of illegal dumping, and whether waste tire haulers should be regulated.

Specific conditions that exist in Montana made it difficult for study participants to justify unilateral policy changes in waste tire management practices.

  • Montana generates less than one million waste tires annually over a large geographic area. This inhibits the economic feasibility of many waste tire management options available to other states, including attracting tire processors and recyclers. These businesses must locate enough waste tires within a geographically economic area to be viable.
  • Landfills within Montana, in general, have sufficient capacity and the authority necessary to address problems.
  • Illegal tire dumps exist but are manageable and can be effectively dealt with under current law.
  • DEQ is responsible for providing assistance to emerging markets for waste materials.

Ultimately, the study participants agreed that "…existing and future market competition for properly managing waste tires should be sufficient to address the [tire] problem in the long run." In other words, the EQC expected that natural market forces should continue to be sufficient to meet Montana's needs. DEQ is mandated to assist in the development of markets for waste materials by the Integrated Waste Management Act, which also mandates a decrease in the amount of waste landfilled.

Market interest in waste tire management in Montana is driven more by environmental interests or energy interests rather than population. Montana's low population density and small number of waste tires creates a special niche that needs to be filled. The small number of waste tires may minimize the severity of management problems, but it also increases the difficulty of offering programs such as recycling, use in civil engineering projects, and similar management practices utilized in other states.