Michigan tires reused in roads, other applications

The rubber meets the road not in the usual direction of tires rolling on pavement, but in the rubber of worn tires that are part of road surfaces in parts of Michigan.

Recent paving projects supported by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in Bay and Clare counties expands Michigan’s use of waste rubber tires in road resurfacing, keeping materials out of landfills and shaping the highways of the future.

Somewhere else, plastic waste has been embedded in the asphalt as companies and material recovery facilities become more creative in finding end uses for plastic, rubber and other materials that have proven difficult to reuse in the past.

The projects in Bay and Clare counties also highlight an important step in recycling in Michigan. As of 2022, the state’s major scrap tire processors—about 10 in all—no longer send regular scrap materials to landfills. Aside from small amounts too dirty or contaminated to be recycled, all materials are recovered and reused for use not only in road works but as mulch, in rain gardens and septic fields; as weights for construction barrels and silage blankets; in a molded and extruded plastic product; as a porous pavement for paths and paths; as tire-derived fuel and more.

“The scrap tire market in Michigan is shifting from managing scrap tires as waste to creating economic value,” said Kirsten Clemens, scrap tire coordinator in EGLE’s Materials Management Division.

Repaving in Bay and Clare counties used material from approximately 59,500 tires over 5.5 miles of roadway. EGLE awarded Michigan Technological University a $396,000 grant for project design and testing. Each county’s road commission carried out the paving work, resurfacing 4.5 miles of Seven Mile Road from E. Midland Road to E. Beaver Road in Bay County and 1.15 miles of W. Haskell Lake Road from Cook Avenue to Lake Station Avenue in County Clare. At both locations, repaving has been divided into sections to allow for a side-by-side comparison of rubberized and conventional paving materials.

These two projects are far from the first of their kind in Michigan. Last year alone, four counties in Michigan completed rubberized local road projects using more than 30,000 waste tires. As early as 2005 and 2006, Saginaw County rolled out a pair of 2-mile sections of rubberized asphalt. The Michigan Department of Transportation allows some asphalt mixes to be recycled, but it is not required.

“We have about 20 years of projects and now we have really solid technology,” says Clemens. “What we’re trying to do is expand usage by getting hardware into communities that need infrastructure solutions.”

The growing consensus is that rubber modified paving is a winner for local roads. In 2019, EGLE helped fund a Michigan Tech project in Dickinson County to see how an asphalt-rubber mix would withstand the extreme weather conditions of the Upper Peninsula. A study two years later found that the pavement resists rutting in hot weather and cracking in cold weather. Researchers will continue to monitor the project — which won a 2019 award from the County Road Association of Michigan — for 10 years or more.

Installing a modified rubber chip seal on Seven Mile Road in Bay County.