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THE LATEST ECO VILLAIN? TIRES

Synthetic Polymer Particles Are Getting Everywhere

Michelin Pilot Sport 5 PS5 PS 5 Tire
The new Michelin Pilot Sport 5. Photo via Michelin.

Tires are bad. Science says so. As they wear during use, rubber and plastic particles are not only escaping its way into our air, but also into the oceans as well.

In 2014, researchers at The Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina went looking for microplastics in the ocean, and not only did they find what they were looking for, but they also found a significant amount of rubber that had traveled from the nearby roadway into the water. The microscopic rubber was shaped like a tiny cigar, rolled up in a cylinder.

It was a surprise to the researchers, but it really shouldn’t have been. Tires are one of the most common sources of plastic pollution on Earth according to a 2017 study by The University of The Netherlands.

Carbon Revolution Fiber Wheels C8 Corvette Z06 2023
Image via Chevrolet

Unless you’re Fred Flintstone, the tires on your car are made of a combination of synthetic and natural rubber, the former being a plastic polymer. As you drive, your tires wear, and where do those pieces of rubber go? Well, into the air of course.

The problem is worse for larger, heavier vehicles, as those tires have higher rolling resistance, leading to increased wear. We can’t go into detail about how bad microplastics are for life on earth here, but some studies have even shown that it’s worse than our tailpipe emissions, which of course have drawn the ire of politicians the world over.

Will burnouts be illegal next? Suppose we shouldn’t give them any ideas.

We’re not really sure what the alternative is here for tires, and that’s just the thing that’s most concerning. Even so, the science hasn’t been dormant in creating a more sustainable tire. In 2017, researchers at the University of Minnesota were able to produce a key ingredient of synthetic rubber called isoprene using natural sources such as grass, trees, and corn, while Goodyear recently developed a concept tire that features moss in the center to soak up carbon dioxide.

Overall, however, rubber continues to be an irreplaceable medium for how our vehicles make contact with the road. Be it car, truck, van, bus, tram, and even some light rail systems, one will find rubber tires. So what are we supposed to do instead? Fly?

Ford Ranger Raptor BFGoodrich Tires

Written by Alex

Alex is a freelance automotive journalist hailing from the Toronto area. He considers Michigan to be a warm place.

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