Kuwait’s Tire Graveyard: Over 7 Million Discarded Tires Raise Fire Hazard Concerns

There've been many fires over the years, and tire fires are especially difficult to put out.
Derya Ozdemir
Kuwait tire fire on October 15, 2020Kuwait General Fire Force/Twitter

Here are some mind-bending facts: In 2019, over three billion vehicle tires were produced worldwide, and a typical tire will travel about 20,000 miles (32,180 km) over the course of its lifespan. When a tire outlives its usefulness, it'll often be recycled; however, in some parts of the world, it'll most probably end up in a tire graveyard. 

One such place is located in Kuwait City's Sulaibiya neighborhood. Every year, huge holes in the sandy dirt are excavated and filled with old tires, resulting in tire mountains that can even be seen from space.  

There are currently over seven million tires in the ground, according to numerous reports. However, not all of them are from Kuwait, as neighboring countries are allowed to send their own tire waste to the landfill for a fee.

What is at stake? 

These discarded tires are one of the most problematic sources of waste due to their large volume in the market. Their durability and the fact they contain a range of ecologically hazardous components don't really help either.    

Fire is a significant issue at Kuwait's tire graveyard, and numerous fires have been consistently reported over the years.

Tire fires are pretty difficult to put out, and they create a lot of smoke that carries toxic chemicals, like carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides, resulting from the breakdown of rubber compounds. From respiratory ailments to cancer, these substances can have short- and long-term health effects.  

Moreover, tires release heavy metals and oil as they burn, which seep into the ground and water over time, polluting land and water.

In 2019, for example, a massive fire broke out that could be seen from orbit. According to KUNA, the fire consumed 25,000 million square meters of the site, resulting in the burning of an estimated one million tires. On April 29, 2021, the most recent fire was reported.

While there've been plans to construct three factories that would recycle tires, there has been no development reported as of this writing.

Prohibition and recycling 

Shipping tires to landfills is prohibited in the vast majority of nations, including the entire continent of Europe. Instead, these countries recycle their tires. In the U.S., scrap tires are burned for fuel, utilized in crumb rubber products, employed in civil engineering applications, and some are crushed and disposed of in landfills, according to the RMA.

Tire recycling can bring both economic and environmental benefits because tires have a second life in many areas. They can, for example, be repurposed into road sub-layers and playground flooring. They are also widely employed in the construction of artificial sports fields, carpet underlays, equestrian arenas, playgrounds, and jogging tracks. Moreover, recycled tires can be used to create road surfaces that are quieter than traditional asphalt roads

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