Friday, April 2, 2010 | 3 a.m.
For years, Nevada residents sent their used tires — about 2 million a year — to the state’s landfills.
Today, they can be recycled in a new state-of-the-art recycling plant in Las Vegas, opened in December by Phoenix Recycling Technologies.
Kelly Sockwell, director of operations for the plant, said the $5.5 million, 75,000-square-foot operation is taking tires from Nevada and parts of Utah, Arizona and California as the state’s first tire recycling center.
“We’re excited to have the operational phase under way,” Sockwell told guests at a recent open house. “This plant can process 2 million tires a year, and we’re producing commodities from the waste. For each ton we produce, it lowers the environmental impact of producing new materials.”
The end product produced is called “crumb rubber,” a material used as a turf dressing on natural grass and on artificial playing surfaces.
Crumb rubber also is used as an ingredient for rubberized asphalt, a durable and resilient roadway surface.
The material also is used for equestrian arenas to reduce damage to a horse’s bones, joints, ligaments and soft tissue and on playground surfaces.
The rubberized nuggets on playgrounds hold their color, last longer than other compounds and won’t cause splinters, attract insects or animals, nor stain clothing.
Crumb rubber also can be used as a landscape mulch and for manufacturing rubberized railroad ties and new tires.
The plant on East Cheyenne Avenue between Lamb and Nellis boulevards employs 20 people, and Phoenix Recycling is running two shifts a day.
The company accepts tires from contracted suppliers for 70 cents per passenger car tire and a little more for tires from trucks and large vehicles. Suppliers deliver tires to five on-site containment areas before they are moved to the shredding assembly line.
Tires move through a series of shredders by conveyor belt. The first shredder tears tires into 3-inch pieces. Magnets pull steel belts from the shred piles in five different locations.
The next shredder tears the pieces down to 3/4-inch chips that are 94 percent metal free. The next phase reduce the pieces to 1/4-inch chunks.
Different size gradations of crumb rubber are produced for different purposes and the final product is packaged in one-ton bags. The plant normally produces about 140 tons a day. Five employees can operate a production line.
All parts of the tire are recycled with 65 percent returned as crumb rubber, 25 percent scrap steel and 10 percent fiber.
The Las Vegas plant is part of Phoenix Recycling’s network of plants nationwide and the company in 2008 produced 32 percent of crumb rubber for sports fields, 28 percent for asphalt and 7 percent for the manufacturing of new tires.
Sockwell said the development of the plant was a two-year process.
Phoenix Recycling’s parent company specializes in engineering and manufacturing waste tire recycling plants and asphalt rubber blending equipment for worldwide distribution and started research and development on a plant in Nevada in 2007.
Simultaneously, the company worked with state Sen. Allison Copening, D-Las Vegas, who introduced legislation to encourage tires to be recycled and ban their disposal in most of the state’s landfills. The legislation doesn’t require recycling in rural areas and bans dumping whole tires in municipal landfills.
“We needed to take baby steps on this,” said Copening, who attended Phoenix Recycling’s open house. “We recognized there were some cost hardships, and we wanted to work with all the shareholders involved in recycling programs.”
With the plant operational, Copening hopes tire recycling will increase and that the Nevada Transportation Department will look at design specifications for some highway projects to use crumb rubber for construction. Although crumb rubber blends often are more expensive than conventional asphalt, Copening said the durability of the finished product could make it worth writing into construction specifications.