Tired ideas

Brodie Thomas
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After years of waffling, the provincial government has come up with a plan to ship the backlog of used vehicle tires to Quebec to be burned.

It’s not a cheap solution. It’s going to cost close to $5 million. There goes the $3 deposit spent on every tire purchased.

The paper mill in Corner Brook wanted to burn them for fuel, but citizens nixed that proposal though protest.

The CBC has reported that the province turned down the chance to recycle the tires through a New Brunswick company for a cost of about $7 million.

But if recycling isn’t clean and green enough for you, there’s a growing movement of people who are building off-the-grid homes out of used tires, among other waste products.

Architect Mike Reynolds started building his “earthships” back in the 1970s. He called them earthships because he said the idea of a home that eats energy from a grid is outdated and unnecessary. He said it needed a new name.

They were popular around Mr. Reynolds’ home county in Arizona until municipalities started denying permits to build. The structures didn’t come close to complying with general housing codes because they were unlike anything the world had ever seen. They have since been built all over the world.

Earthships generate most of their electricity through wind and solar power. They collect their own water and have closed wastewater disposal systems that are cleaner than a septic field. They are heated through passive solar heating and employ a thermal mass (i.e. a large block of earth or rock) to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home.

In the documentary Garbage Warrior (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrMJwIedrWU), Mr. Reynolds talks about having a fireplace for use at Christmas time in his own home. It was entirely unnecessary otherwise. The house just held its heat. Many earthships have been built in the high desert of Arizona, where temperatures swing from nearly 50 degrees Celsius above in the summer to 30 below in the winter.

To build with tires, Mr. Reynolds and his homebuilders would stack them on their side, like bricks, and fill them with pounded earth. It is a labour intensive process but the result is a solid and well-insulated natural wall, not unlike a root cellar. The walls are coated with a layer of concrete or stucco to give a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. Because the tires are filled with dirt and oxygen cannot get at them, they are not flammable.

This is not to suggest that we should abolish regular homebuilding and start forcing people to build Mr. Reynolds’ earthships with our backlog of tires. But one wonders what would happen if a would-be home builder showed up at one of the many tire dumps around the province and asked for a few dozen tires to build their home.

The economy rewards those who think outside the box and create products that at first seem too good to be true. But the Steve Jobs and Thomas Edisons of the world are often stifled by government regulators and others who want to do things the way they’ve always been done.

Shipping and burning shows a lack of foresight and imagination by the Multi Material Stewardship Board - a group that markets itself as green. For $2 million more, the MMSB could’ve lived up to its self-proclaimed values and at least recycled the tires.

@Tagline:Brodie Thomas-editor@gulfnews.ca

Organizations: CBC, Multi Material Stewardship Board

Geographic location: Arizona, Corner Brook, New Brunswick

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