WASHINGTON -- I wonder what Bridgestone/Firestone is going to do with the millions of recalled tires it is now taking back. Will they be stacked away somewhere, awaiting the ignition of one of those eternally burning-tire fires? Will the "good" tires, and there probably are many in the bunch, be scrapped? Hmm. Or, will Bridgestone/Firestone take a page from the book of some other U.S. industries and ship the tires overseas?
More than 6.5 million tires have been officially recalled by the company, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued a consumer alert about another 1.4 million Firestone tires. Across the globe, more than 14 million tires are being withdrawn.
There are creative options for these tires. To get some possible ideas, I trolled the Internet, consulted tire recycling experts and studied the excellent work of the Tire Recycling Management Association, a Canadian outfit renowned for its development of environmentally sound recycling strategies.
I also reviewed some history of other industries that ran into trouble marketing their products. For example, let's discuss the tobacco industry. As smoking rates have fallen in this country, American tobacco companies increasingly look to markets in Latin America, Africa or other parts of the world where regulations about the age of buyers may be more lax than here and where many citizens may not be as aware of the health hazards.
Ditto many substandard auto parts that can't past muster stateside. After they have flunked the consumer-use test here and received a bad reputation, the remaining stock often gets shipped someplace where standards are lower.
There is concern that such a strategy could be used on those million of Firestone tires, as evidenced by recent action taken by Philippines Trade Secretary Max Roxas.
Roxas ordered the country's importers of tires to enforce a recall of all of Firestone AT/ATX/Wilderness tires affected by recalls in the United States and elsewhere, including France.
His agency could not give exact numbers of how many tires might be affected. But Philippine government sources in the United States said that "hundreds of thousands" could be involved, including the shipment of used Firestones that look like new.
Bridgestone/Firestone, of course, has pledged before Congress and everyone else willing to listen that it will do the right thing -- and will avoid any future actions that could be perceived as misleading or harming consumers anywhere.
Perhaps, that pledge ought to be followed up by congressional and regulatory oversight to make sure that the "right thing" does not involve finding the "right" consumer market to palm off unwanted wares.
That means the Environmental Protection Agency might want to take a look; and the EPA might want to avail itself of the knowledge of the North American tire recycling industry to figure out how to positively reuse all of this rejected rubber.
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