In other news about trash, the U.S. is making significant strides in the reuse and recycling of rubber tires. Last year, Americans got rid of about 281 million tires — some 5.7 million tons worth. In 1990, just one out of every 10 discarded tires was reused; now, that number has risen to nearly eight in 10. Some are burned to generate electricity; some are mixed with asphalt to pave roads; some are made into rubber mats, construction materials, or playground surfaces; and still others live out their lives at landfill, but in a special capacity — as a drainage layer underneath the dump. Currently, 43 states have programs to handle old tires, and some stockpiles are decreasing. In part, that’s because states are paying more attention to the problem, concerned that old tires are a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and an irresistible target for vandals. In 1999, two men started a tire fire that burned a fifth of the estimated 25 million tires at an Ohio landfill, filling the sky with smoke and sending oil from the melting tires into nearby creeks.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.