Tires become sandals in latest recycling trend

| August 21, 2014

One and a half billion tires get discarded every year.

We’re having a hard time wrapping our heads around that number. Especially since tires aren’t exactly like bottle caps—they take up serious space.


One and a half billion tires are discarded every year. From vagawi.

We’re not the only ones who are a little put off by the idea of 1.5 billion tires ending up in landfills (or at t he bottom of an ocean, or along the side of the road, or anywhere else where they’re simply taking up space). There’s a small but intriguing trend toward refashioning old tires into new, usable products. Ken Wysocky recently covered this trend for the BBC, and the story has been gaining traction (no pun intended) elsewhere, such as via Danny King on AutoBlog.

Here’s the story behind this trend: Tires are made to be durable. Even if one portion wears out (and sends you careening off the road, if the wear-out occurs suddenly), the rest of the tire typically has a fair amount of life left in it. And, yet, you can’t very well use a tire with a big hole in it. A “small fraction” of old or damaged tires end up being retread in order to go back on a vehicle, but much of the rest ends up where it’s not supposed to be. That’s why we end up with so much discarded—yet usable—tire material.

Now, that material is turning into flip-flop sandals, furniture, playground cushioning, ground cover for parks, and even flooring products. Hertz and Liberty Tire are working together on a tire repurposing program, and Bridgestone Americas has another program. But not all the tire repurposing efforts come from companies with household names.

King reports that “small companies in Kenya are refashioning old tires into sandals that sell for $2 to $5 a pop.” These sandals are reportedly known for their durability, In fact, they’ve earned the nickname of “thousand-milers” because they last “10 times” as long as other types of flip-flops. The BBC article says that Maasai tribesmen have worn sandals made from old tires for decades.

The trend is catching on stateside as well. A company called Detroit Treads out of (where else?) Detroit is turning tire-sourced flip-flops into a bona fide fashion item, selling them for $25 per pair.

With demand increasing for reusable, environmentally responsible materials, we expect to see more tire-repurposing operations popping up, such as The Retyrement Plan in Mumbai that makes outdoor furniture, or Apokalyps Labotek in Sweden, which makes flooring.

Earth friendly and a money-maker? Now that’s where the rubber meets the road.

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Category: Recycling programs

About the Author ()

Ellen Hunter Gans has been writing for RecycleReminders since the blog’s inception. She is passionate about words, new media and, of course, recycling.

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