Environmental Commentary by Sara Kaplaniak
For the maiden voyage in our new canoe, we put in near our neighborhood along the Conodoguinet Creek and followed the shallow water to the Susquehanna River where the current carried us towards Harrisburg. All said, it was a three-hour tour.
Though I am a native central Pennsylvanian, I had never traveled the areas waterways until that paddle with my husband and our two kids. We spotted crayfish, fish and lots of birds, especially herons. But what surprised me most were the tires. We came across so
tires. They have been on my mind ever since.
It turns out that until after World War II our nation employed a waste not, want not attitude and most scrap tires were reused or recycled. But society moved away from this frugality, especially after the advent of steel belted and synthetic rubber radial tires that proved more difficult to break down.
Tires piled up. By the time the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law funding a state-wide tire recycling initiative in 1996, the toxic, fire-prone, mosquito-ridden and illegal piles contained 36 million tires. Other states also took action.
It never had to get to this. My family didnt need to witness equal numbers of herons and tires during our summer canoe trip. Unlike some forms of refuse, tires have proven eligible for a number of uses beyond their vehicular purposes.
Pennsylvanias state-wide recycling initiative spurred the creation of businesses focused on repurposing tires, often shredding and adding them to a compound used in asphalt, athletic fields and various civil engineering projects. The cement, paper and other industries burn tires for energy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, tire-derived fuel produces the same amount of energy as oil and 25 percent more energy than coal.
Similar recycling initiatives exist in other Bay states. In Maryland and Virginia, state environmental agencies charge a one-time fee on every new tire sold to support programs dedicated to cleaning up tire piles and managing the collection, transportation, recycling and processing of scrap tires.
At a national level, Bridgestone tire company launched a new Spent Tire Program on Earth Day last year. As part of the programs waste-free vision for the tire industry, the company will recycle spent tires collected during any organized clean-up event, free of charge. Bridgestone also committed to ensuring that for every new tire the company sells in the United States, one tire removed from use will be sent to another valuable purpose.
Without a doubt, progress has been made. In Pennsylvania, increased awareness and legislation has led to the clean-up of 20 million tires, and counting. New businesses developed to deal with the issue have created jobs and provide a beneficial service that supports local economies and the environment. Corporations like the Bridgestone Company complement these actions by making sustainability a priority.
However, while fewer tires populate our rivers and creeks, those that remain provide a visible symbol of what else enters the water from the land. We can see a twenty pound tire when it makes its way into local waterways. But what weightless, odorless compounds departing lawns, streets, roofs, farm fields and parking lots are escape our vision and affect our health?
These invisible pollutants are the ones scientists worry most about and they are the reason why Chesapeake Bay states have been called upon to identify major sources of pollution and set milestones for meeting water quality standards in the watershed. This pollution diet, as it is called, has received an emotional reaction due to its high costs and tight timelines.
Cities and towns across the region are wondering how they will be able to afford their piece of the watersheds pollution diet. But whats the alternative? I have to wonder how we can afford NOT to take these steps.
We are now incurring the pound of cure that follows our grave lack of prevention. But rather than an impossible journey, the pollution dies may be an opportunity for creative ideas, effective programs and new business ventures to prevent land-based pollution from reaching local waterways. As with tires, hard work and perseverance could pay off, and the ultimate, and priceless, reward would be cool, clear, tire-free, pollution-free water for everyone to enjoy. . . . forever.
Sara Kaplaniak lives and writes in Pennsylvania, where she reduces, reuses and recycles along with her husband and two kids. Distributed by Bay Journal News Service.