National Rubber Technologies

Sparing Tires

Ever wondered what ever happens to your old tires when you turn them in? You should look into National Rubber Technologies (NRT), one of the leading North American suppliers of engineered products derived from recycled rubber. Every week, scrap tires arrive at the tire recycling plant in Toronto, where they are re-engineered to make a variety of products, using a proprietary process to separate rubber, steel and fibre—all manufactured in-house.

Founded in 1927, NRT has always been in the business of converting scrap rubber into value-added products. When the company started, it was collecting old conveyor belts and die cutting them into parts for the agricultural industry. From there, NRT gathered scrap rubber from tire manufacturers and learned how to blend and mould scrap rubber into finished goods for the auto and construction industries.

In 1994, the company got involved in recycling scrap tires as another source of rubber. It turned out so well that NRT opened a recycling plant in Toronto, operating near their manufacturing plant. All of the material generated at the recycling plant is used as feedstock. Between both facilities, NRT currently employs about 300 people.

One Tire at a Time
Greg Bavington, President and CEO of NRT, explains that his company diverts about 2 million tires per year from the landfill—a significant environmental impact. He would like to do more than that, but people aren’t always willing to pay the extra.

“There are times when we haven’t access to as many scrap tires as we needed, despite the fact that about 10 million a year are generated in Ontario,” says Bavington. Many of them are hauled off to Quebec and New York State to be incinerated; Ontario does not permit incineration of scrap tires. Incineration is a lower cost of disposal financially, but it’s certainly not lower cost to the environment.”

A lot of NRT’s scrap tires are picked up at tire retailers. When people purchase a new set of tires, more often than not, they will leave their old tires behind, paying a disposal fee to the retailers. In turn, retailers use the services of companies like ours, or ones in Buffalo or Quebec that incinerate them. Unfortunately, recycling is more expensive and retailers prefer to make a profit from the fee. But there’s hope yet.

“Right now, we’re working closely with the government of Ontario to develop its soon-to-be-implemented Scrap Tire Management Program,” explains Bavington. “One of the goals of the program will be to ensure that if someone wants to recycle a scrap tire, they have that option.”

This program has a lot of potential for NRT; it could secure their supply for years to come. As for now, about 85 per cent of all its products are made from recycled material. Of that 85 per cent, half of the material comes from post-consumer tires, with the other half coming from manufacturers’ scrap.

“We collect from tire manufacturers all over the world,” says Bavington. “So, in addition to the 2 million tires a year that we’re recycling, we’re also recycling about 25 to 30 million pounds of industrial scrap rubber that would otherwise go the landfill.”

So, what’s the best selling re-engineered rubber-based product?
“By far, the biggest seller is general purpose industrial rubber sheeting,” states Bavington. “We manufacture about a 250,000 square feet of rubber sheeting per day. From there, rubber sheeting could find its way into the auto industry as die cut feedstock, or maybe into civil engineering applications as load bearing pads. You can also find it in trucks, and recreational and military vehicles. It’s ubiquitous.”

“The Spine of the Company”
As a completely vertically integrated company, NRT has a value chain that starts from picking up the scrap tires and repurposing the material through to a tier-one product. Needless to say, Research and Development (R&D) is very important, or as Bavington puts it, critical. “I’ve been in as many or more tire recycling facilities than anybody I’ve ever met. And I have yet to see a company that does what we do. There has been an enormous amount of innovation that has gone in to making everything possible—from basic rubber chemistry through to machine design.”

“We’re the only ones doing what we do,” Bavington continues, “so there’s no one providing us with expertise or machinery from the outside that’s directly applicable. A lot of our process equipment has been designed in-house from the ground up. The ability to test, characterise and blend all these raw materials has been completely developed here. R&D is the spine of the company.”

Down the road
With the Scrap Tire Management Program coming into place, NRT has the assurance of needed scrap tire supply. Bavington foresees an increase in the amount of scrap tire materials produced within the compounds. In addition to the production side of things, the program should also help offset the reclaim rubber practice.

“Reclaim rubber is a technique where you take scrap rubber and expose it to aggressive chemicals to soften it and make it re-mouldable,” explains Bavington. “It’s a process that’s not done in North America anymore, because those aggressive chemicals need to be continuously discarded. Consequently, it is a process that is carried out in Asia, particularly China and Bangladesh. NRT can slow down the practice or diminish its prevalence by using more scrap tire material.”

NRT’s goal over the next year is to displace reclaim rubber products from the North American market, which will create significant economic activity in Toronto. Less reclaim rubber will also create significant environmental benefit in Asia.

“Our philosophy is that we should seek applications that require the inherent properties of rubber, which is where we will generate the most benefit to the economy and environment. It happens when you’re displacing other virgin or reclaimed rubber products,” says Bavington. “We’re not experts on air quality or the implications of tire incineration, but we do know that tires are more valuable than coal.”

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