A recently announced use for post-consumer tires has given the media the opportunity to use some bad puns. Let’s just say there is a lot of “traction” involved. Of course, we are referring to the recently announced partnership between Timberland, the shoe / boot manufacturer and the tire manufacturer Omni United.
The result of this partnership is Timberland Tires; tires that are produced exclusively to serve in a second life as the sole of a Timberland boot. Since carbon clean tech (cct) is in the business of making products from post-consumer tires, we applaud any initiatives of this kind, especially considering the millions of tires that end up in landfills or are burned for fuel.
But the actual numbers in the Timberland story give us pause. According to the New York Times, only 200,000 pairs of Timberland’s shoes will have the recycled rubber soles. This is just a tiny fraction of the company’s shoe fleet, which was estimated in to be more than 30 million shoes annually. Not only is this just a flash in the pan, it is perhaps not the most economical use. Other possibilities to give an old tire new life, such as recovering the oil and carbon black, or processing crumb for surfaces, promise to put a greater, and overall more environmentally-impactful, dent in the used-tire problem.
All this said, one aspect of the Timberland Tire partnership signals a change of thinking in the tire recycling industry, and gives us all hope. This partnership shoes, oops – “shows”- that it is possible, and quite likely profitable, to engineer the recycling directly into product design. When we conceive of a new product, we should factor in how it will be used in its next life, and after that. This type of thinking is critical for the success of circular and sustainable economies.
Pictured: G.S. Sareen, CEO, Omni United (credit: www.timberlandtires.com)