Old Tires Hit the Gridiron

Great Lakes residents use more than two million tires a year, and many of them end up in a landfill. But one Illinois school has found an unusual way to use some of those tires. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman has more:


Great Lakes residents use more than two million tires a year, and many of them end up in a landfill. But one Illinois school has found an unusual way to use some of those tires. And they’re saving on hospital costs as well. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris Lehman has more.

(natural sound football practice, fade under quickly)

From beer cans to soda bottles, there are plenty of items that can be recycled at a typical football game. But at the 31-thousand seat Huskie Stadium at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, what is perhaps the largest recycling effort is in the field itself. More than 18-thousand ground-up tires are underneath the new surface of the playing field . . .mixed with sand; they provide a soft but durable base for all types of athletic events. The fake grass on top is similar to Astroturf, but project manager Norm Jenkins says this surface is better. He says the most important advantage is safety.

“It’s well documented over the last few years since these fields have been installed that the injury frequency goes way down in terms of ankle and knee injuries on this surface as opposed to the old Astroturf carpet. So it really simulates grass in that way. The other big advantage to this in our judgment is the appearance. Because really, as you sit in the stands at a Huskie football game–and even from the sidelines when you stand on that stuff–you’re convinced that the surface is grass. It looks, it appears just like a pristine grass playing surface”

The artificial turf at NIU is a brand called Field Turf. Jim Petrucelli is Vice-President of Turf USA, a Pittsburgh-based distributor of Field Turf. He says the scrap tires for the product are first washed with a high-pressure cleaning system similar to a car wash. But the tires aren’t run through grinder blades. That process is called ambient grinding because it takes place at room temperature. It tends to produce longer, rougher particles.

Instead, Petrucelli says the company cryogenically freezes the tires to temperatures below negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

“And then they drop them onto a hammer-mill. And the hammer-mill shatters them into pieces. And those pieces tend to have much flatter sides on them . . . that works much better in our system to prevent the rubber from migrating through the sand that it’s mixed with.”

Field Turf is used at several universities in the Great Lakes region, including the University of Cincinnati, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and at a University of Michigan field house. It’s also in use at dozens of high schools and public recreation facilities across the region, and has been installed in places as far away as Botswana and New Zealand.

Petrucelli says that at more than eight dollars a square foot, Field Turf is the Cadillac of artificial turf products. At Northern Illinois University, nearly one-third of the cost of installing the Field Turf was recovered through a variety of money-saving measures. The largest of these was a 200-thousand dollar grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs. The money was awarded to the school for its use of the tires, which came from a salvage yard near Chicago. Robert Albanese is NIU’s Associate Vice President of Finance and Facilities.

“Every time you purchase a new tire there’s a fee that goes along with it. It goes to this fund for recycling the tires. And this process will only work, is if we use those recycled materials on the other end. And this is probably one of the bigger uses for recycled rubber that we’ve seen in the state of Illinois.”

NIU Director of Recycling Mary Crocker says the use of old tires in the Field Turf project wasn’t just about saving money.

“We’re interested in keeping the tires out the landfills. So this is probably the most comprehensive recycling program that you can find, where virtually everything has to do with recycling.”

(More football sound under)

The old Astroturf, which was removed to make way for the Field Turf, was also recycled. The university sold it for use as a soccer field overseas, earning an additional 29 thousand dollars for the school. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chris Lehman.