A fire broke out at the world’s largest tire dump in Kuwait

    05 Aug 2021

    The world’s largest tire dump at the Al Sulaibiya tire site in Kuwait is on fire and is visible on satellite images. The tire graveyard is estimated to have 7 million tires, according to posts on social media.

    Horrified reactions poured in on social media after a burning pile of tires video was shared online. The video, which has been viewed millions of times since it was shared on July 3, shows thick, black smoke billowing into the air.

    Many commentators expressed despair about more significant issues such as climate change and pollution.

    Tire fire common in Kuwait

    Fires at Kuwait’s vast tire stockpiles are pretty common, making pinpointing the anonymous video’s exact location difficult.

    Many have speculated that it was shot at Kuwait’s famous Sulaibiya tire graveyard, and have shared satellite images of the site showing smoke wafting from the stockpile.

    Daily Mail reported in 2013 that every year, gigantic holes are dug out of the sandy earth in Kuwait City’s Sulaibiya, and it is then filled with old tires. In 2013, there were over seven million tires in the ground.

    The fire started at a landfill called Sulabia. It is visible from space. There are about 52 million old tires in the landfill. In most countries of the world, such landfills are prohibited – used tires are crushed and recycled. When they are burned, many harmful substances are released, including arsenic, benzene, and dioxins.

    This is not the first landfill fire in Kuwait. The tires flare up there from time to time. The biggest fire on “Sulabia” occurred in 2012. Then they could not cope with the fire for a whole month. The local population was spared by sheer good fortune in that the wind blew the hazardous smoke across the Gulf.

    Here are some mind-bending facts: In 2019, over three billion vehicle tires were produced worldwide, and a typical tire will travel about 20,000 miles (32,180 km) throughout its lifespan. When a tire outlives its usefulness, it’ll often be recycled; however, it’ll most probably end up in a tire graveyard in some parts of the world. 

    One such place is located in Kuwait City’s Sulaibiya neighborhood. Every year, huge holes in the sandy dirt are excavated and filled with old tires, resulting in tire mountains that can even be seen from space.  

    There are currently over seven million tires in the ground, according to numerous reports. However, not all of them are from Kuwait, as neighboring countries are allowed to send their own tire waste to the landfill for a fee.

    What is at stake? 

    These discarded tires are one of the most problematic sources of waste due to their large volume in the market. Their durability and the fact they contain a range of ecologically hazardous components don’t really help either.    

    Fire is a significant issue at Kuwait’s tire graveyard, and numerous fires have been consistently reported over the years.

    Tire fires are pretty challenging to put out, and they create a lot of smoke that carries toxic chemicals, like carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides, resulting from the breakdown of rubber compounds. From respiratory ailments to cancer, these substances can have short- and long-term health effects.  

    Moreover, tires release heavy metals and oil as they burn, which seep into the ground and water over time, polluting land and water.

    In 2019, for example, a massive fire broke out that could be seen from orbit. According to KUNA, the fire consumed 25,000 million square meters of the site, resulting in burning an estimated one million tires. On April 29, 2021, the most recent fire was reported.

    While there’ve been plans to construct three factories that would recycle tires, there has been no development reported as of this writing.

    Prohibition and recycling 

    Shipping tires to landfills is prohibited in the vast majority of nations, including the entire continent of Europe. Instead, these countries recycle their tires. In the U.S., scrap tires are burned for fuel, utilized in crumb rubber products, employed in civil engineering applications, and some are crushed and disposed of in landfills, according to the RMA.

    Tire recycling can bring both economic and environmental benefits because tires have a second life in many areas. They can, for example, be repurposed into road sub-layers and playground flooring. They are also widely employed in the construction of artificial sports fields, carpet underlays, equestrian arenas, playgrounds, and jogging tracks. Moreover, recycled tires can be used to create road surfaces that are quieter than traditional asphalt roads

    The tires are believed to be from Kuwait and other countries that have paid for them to be taken away.

    Four companies are in charge of the disposal and are thought to make a substantial amount from the disposal fees.

    Many have questioned the wisdom of storing such combustible materials in a country where the temperatures brush 50° C.

    The government of Kuwait has begun to tackle the 30 years build up tires in the desert that has seen 52 million dumped at various sites.

    Toxic smoke

    It a bid to make way for housing, there are plans to remove 95 % of the tires to be recycled.

    Disposing of used tires continues to be a problem for many countries.

    Burning tires releases carcinogenic dioxins into the air, and pollutants can trigger health problems, including asthma.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, governments made efforts in the US and South East Asia to create artificial reefs using discarded tyres.

    But they have become environmentally disastrous after tirestires dislodged during storms and damaged nearby coral.

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