Fix for underfunded Arkansas tire recycling program must wait for legislative review

Meanwhile, scrap tires continue to pile up at shops around the state

By: - August 26, 2022 5:13 pm

(Getty Images)

A stop-gap measure to keep Arkansas’ tire recycling program running fell through on Friday, meaning scrap tire piles will keep growing in large sections of the state.

A request from the Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality for $1 million from state savings to shore up the Arkansas Used Tire Recycling and Accountability Act Program was pulled from the Arkansas Legislative Council’s Friday meeting.

The program, which funds the disposal of Arkansas’ used tires, ran out of money last quarter. That left tire districts and some recycling facilities to foot the bill for more than 31% of their costs, which should’ve been covered by the state, for April, May and June.

Some legislators want to audit the tire recycling program and better understand how it became underfunded. So, lawmakers referred the matter to the Joint Performance Review Committee, the Legislature’s investigative oversight committee.

We can’t continue to take these tires and run a business that way.

– Roger Davis

State Rep. Carlton Wing, R-North Little Rock, has been involved in discussions about solutions to Arkansas’ scrap tire problem. He noted that it’s an issue that few Arkansans and legislators think about until you have “tiremageddon.”

“It’s just one of those programs that flies under the radar,” Wing said. “Then, all of the sudden there’s a request for funding. It’s the job of legislative oversight to control the pursestrings of state government. [Legislators] want to know what’s going on.”

State environmental regulators informed the local waste tire districts last week that the Tire Accountability Program was underfunded for the second quarter of 2022 by $641,122. As a result, the districts would only be reimbursed for 68% of costs reported for that quarter. 

The shortfall occurred because the revenues that fund the program — a $3 rim removal fee charged to new-tire customers — didn’t keep pace with expenses. The surplus funds that had been in place to make up the difference between costs and revenues also ran out, leaving the shortfall.

More than eyesores

The shortage of funds has left regional waste districts and recyclers in a bind. 

Little Rock’s Davis Rubber Company — the largest tire processing facility in the state — has told tire retailers that it can’t take anymore tires until it has assurances the state will pay. 

“They shorted us $72,000 for what we did in July,” Roger Davis, who runs the company with his brother, said Friday. “We can’t continue to take these tires and run a business that way.”

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That’s a problem for more than just Pulaski County. Davis Rubber is the only tire recycler for more than two dozen counties, including much of east and north Arkansas. 

Davis collects more than 70,000 passenger car tires and 5,500 truck tires per month. 

That means tire piles will quickly grow at tire shops, car dealerships and collection centers until a funding solution is found. 

Indeed, several central Arkansas tire shops already had larger-than-normal tires stacks earlier this week.

Those piles are more than just eyesores; they pose environmental problems, attracting mosquitoes, rats and other disease vectors.

Elsewhere in Arkansas

In other parts of the state, used tire districts are still accepting tires. Though, they won’t be able to operate at such a deficit for long. 

Robert Hendrix, executive director of the Craighead County Regional Solid Waste Management District, said his district is subsidizing tire recycling by borrowing funds from other recycling programs. 

“At the amount we have in there, we’d be out of money by the end of the year,” he said.

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In northwest Arkansas, the district that covers Washington and Madison counties could only operate for a few more months under current conditions, said executive director Robyn Reed.

The Boston Mountain district lost more $60,000 due to the shortfall.

“We’re still nervously taking tires,” she said.

What’s next?

Several lawmakers intend to propose permanent program changes to resolve the funding problems during the next legislative session that begins in January. 

Hendrix said the changes ought to include raising the rim removal fees for truck and tractor tires, which cost more to recycle than passenger car tires. 

He also suggested indexing the program’s funding to inflation. Hendrix and others in the industry said rising fuel and labor costs made the state tire program’s funding problems worse.

For now, the Division of Environmental Quality is continuing to monitor the situation and communicate with waste tire districts, a spokeswoman said Friday.

The Joint Performance Review Committee hopes to meet within the next few weeks, chairman Rep. Jimmy Gazaway, R-Paragould, said. That would give lawmakers the opportunity to approve a temporary funding fix at next month’s Legislative Council meeting on Sept. 16.

Until then, many retailers will be stuck with lots of rubber.

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Hunter Field
Hunter Field

Hunter Field is a veteran Arkansas journalist whose reporting on the state has carried him from military air strips in northwest Arkansas to soybean fields in the Arkansas delta. He spent the better part of the last decade investigating and reporting on Arkansas government and politics. For three years, he covered education policy, medical marijuana and the Arkansas General Assembly as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Capitol Bureau. Most recently, he was the Democrat-Gazette's projects editor, leading the newspaper's investigative team. Hunter got his start in journalism covering sports for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. A Memphis native, he enjoys smoking barbecue, kayaking and fishing in his free time.

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