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Going Green in a Dirty Business

By Laura Minnich

March 10, 2012. BOONE — Most people don’t associate their trusted local mechanic with a sustainable, green business, but New River Tire, located on Old 421 South in Deep Gap, is an example of a sustainable, green auto shop. While vehicles are not usually considered sustainable, the way they are cared for can be.

Do you know what happens to those old, balding tires that just came off your car? The State of North Carolina has a mandatory tire recycling program that prevents tires from ending up in our rivers, forests, and empty lots. New River Tire, along with other garages, brings all the old tires to the landfill. The Watauga County Sanitation Department periodically hauls these tires to US Tire Recycling in Concord, N.C.

US Tire Recycling recycles about half of all the tires recycled in North Carolina. Every year, approximately one tire for every citizen is recycled. For the whole country, this amounts to over 380 million tires every year. Tires are broken down and turned into mulch, to be used at playgrounds, and filler for septic tanks.

Most heavy truck tires, used on dump trucks and 18-wheelers, are sent off to a facility to be re-capped, so they can be used again. These tires can handle re-capping three to five times before the tires are eventually recycled. Re-capping heavy duty tires that are used often can save up to a third of the cost of a brand new tire.

New River Tire also recycles as many bad parts that come out of your car as possible. All scrap metal that is accepted is taken to Wilkes Steel, in North Wilkesboro. Wilkes Steel buys steel, aluminum, copper, and brass. They ship the metal to steel mills in Charlotte, Charleston, S.C., and Roanoke, Va. for recycling.

The chemicals that come out of your car get recycled also. “We can’t put used motor oil back in cars, that’s just not right,” Manager Jerry Mahaffey says. All of the oil drained from each oil change, along with bad, or contaminated, fuel (including gasoline, diesel fuel, transmission fluid, and gear oil) is used to heat the garage in the winter.

“It can get really cold in there in the winter,” Mechanic Chris Minnich says. “The garage doors open and close constantly, and the vehicles bring snow and salt in with them.” The large waste oil furnace works overtime to keep New River Tire, its employees, and customers as warm as possible during the windy winter days.

While this may not seem “green” to some, it is a sustainable way to do business. Instead of trucking in oil to heat the garage, while trucking out old oil to be recycled, New River Tire is taking care of the entire process itself. The business doesn’t have to pay for heating, other than the electricity used to run the waste oil furnace.

Not all chemicals can go into the waste oil furnace. Antifreeze is saved and used inside tractor tires. Along with air, the weight of the antifreeze helps give the tractors more traction. “If we didn’t reuse our antifreeze, we’d have to buy more methanol, which would cost our customers more,” Chris Minnich says.

In order to recycle antifreeze or waste fuels, New River Tire would have to pay disposal fees; reusing chemicals keeps costs down, which they pass on to their customers.

Cardboard recycling is the one thing New River Tire is having a problem with, and cost is the motivating factor.

According to Jeff Woodring at GDS, a fee is charged for the dumpster and fuel for the trucks that empty the cardboard recycling dumpsters. GDS donates all recycled cardboard to Watauga County instead of trucking it off the mountain to sell it.

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