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West Michigan company paves the way to tire recycling success

(As part of America Recycles Day, MI Environment looks at a Michigan recycling success story.)

In 2015, as planners of the Grand Rapids ArtPrize festival readied for an army of pedestrians citywide, they stumbled across a problem: 250 metal “tree surround” grates whose raised edges created tripping hazards.

When they sought a solution from West Michigan-based Porous Pave Inc., little did they know they would solve more than one challenge. The company’s tree surrounds were not only flat, but because they incorporated recycled tire rubber, they were flexible, adaptable to any size, durable, easy to clean, environmentally friendly, and – of course – porous, allowing water to pass through instead of run off. The city saved thousands of dollars on cleanup by being able to sweep the porous surrounds instead of picking trash out of traditional metal grates, said Matt Lamb, Porous Pave’s vice president of sales and marketing. Based on this success, the city converted its remaining 650 tree surrounds to Porous Pave in 2016.

A worker installs a Porous Pave pathway at Spring Meadows Country Club in Linden, Michigan. Photo courtesy of Porous Pave.

Worker installs a Porous Pave pathway at Spring Meadows Country Club in Linden, Mich. (Photo courtesy of Porous Pave.)

 

While other companies also create sought-after products from scrap tire rubber, Lamb said Porous Pave is the nation’s leading supplier of such paving solutions for walking paths and trails, playgrounds, tree surrounds, golf course cart paths and bunker liners, and more. The company recently completed a golf course cart path project and the perimeter of pickleball courts in Canadian Lakes, Michigan.

In the past 16 years, Porous Pave has turned 18 million pounds of scrap tires purchased from processing companies into 5 million square feet of product, from Pennsylvania to Florida to Washington to Hawaii.

In doing so, the company became part of a 2022 Michigan recycling success story: As of this year, the state’s major scrap tire processing businesses – about 10 in all – no longer send any regular scrap materials to landfills. Apart from small quantities too dirty or contaminated, all the material is recovered and sold to companies that make consumer and industrial products or use the material for power-generating fuel.

“Finding and growing markets for recyclable material is good for our environment and good for business,” said Kirsten Clemens, scrap tire grant specialist in the Materials Management Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “Keeping tire scrap out of the waste stream is a milestone on the pathway to tripling Michigan’s recycling rate to 45% by 2030 as part of the MI Healthy Climate Plan.”

EGLE’s Scrap Tire Program is tasked with ensuring the proper disposal of all scrap tires generated in Michigan, cleaning up large scrap tire piles, and funding grants to increase the end-use and markets for scrap tires. Funding is primarily from a $1.50 surcharge on all Michigan vehicle title fees. 

Porous Pave is made with scrap tire material that would otherwise be a nuisance waste and doesn’t break down in landfills, but that’s not its only selling point. It’s touted as resilient, excelling in areas with extreme freeze/thaw cycles, and its porosity greatly reduces runoff that can cause flooding and carry pollutants into waterways. At Dow Gardens in Midland, Porous Pave laid down a half-mile path through Whiting Forest in 2018 without having to excavate and put tree roots at risk.

All of Porous Pave’s products include rubber made from scrap tires that are stripped of their steel belts and chopped into “crumbs.” Porous Pave XL tree surrounds are made with 50% tire rubber and 50% stone aggregate, along with a proprietary binder material.

When used for pathways, Porous Pave is usually installed over a base of crushed stone but can even be laid over existing concrete or asphalt, where it will still reduce the flow of stormwater. The paving material is mixed onsite (Lamb said it has the texture and consistency of Rice Krispie treat mix), applied one to two inches thick, depending on the use, and cures in one day. Lamb said the resulting surface, which meets requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, provides a low-impact cushioned surface for walkers, runners, wheelers, and cyclists.

Learn more about management of tire waste on EGLE’s Scrap Tire webpage.