March 4, 2024

The Environmental Impact of Tire Wear in the Electric Vehicle Era

Originally published by Grist,

As traditional gas-powered cars are gradually replaced by electric vehicles (EVs), there is a visible decline in tailpipe emissions. However, automobiles have other environmental repercussions beyond what emanates from their exhaust pipes. This is the Environmental Impact of Tire Wear in the Electric Vehicle Era.

A significant but often overlooked issue is tire pollution, referred to as “tire and road-wear particles” in the industry. With each rotation, tires shed minuscule particles. While tire wear is most pronounced during rapid acceleration, braking, and sharp turns, even cautious driving leads to particulate pollution as a consequence of car usage. This challenge is poised to intensify as more drivers switch to EVs.

Nick Molden, the founder and CEO of Emissions Analytics, a London-based company conducting independent tests on real-world car emissions, underscores the dilemma. Unlike tailpipe exhaust, which is significantly reduced by filters and catalytic converters, tires constitute an open system, making it impractical to capture the polluting particles they emit.

Research by Emissions Analytics reveals that on average, a single car sheds nearly nine pounds of tire weight annually, amounting to 6 million metric tons of tire pollution globally each year, with affluent nations contributing the most due to higher personal car usage.

The transition to EVs further exacerbates the issue. With approximately 14 million EVs hitting the roads annually, these vehicles tend to be heavier than their gas-powered counterparts due to larger batteries. Increased weight translates to higher tire wear, with EVs emitting more tire particulates per mile, exacerbated by their aggressive torque leading to faster acceleration.

Tire particulate comprises a harmful mixture of microplastics, volatile organic compounds, and other chemical additives, contaminating air, soil, and water around roads. These particles, including PM2.5, can enter the bloodstream upon inhalation. Tire wear contributes significantly to oceanic microplastic and airborne PM2.5 pollution, with chemicals like 6PPD, used to prevent tire rubber cracking, posing additional environmental threats, including fish fatalities and potential human health risks.

Addressing climate change mandates phasing out gas-powered vehicles rapidly, but mitigating EVs’ tire wear environmental impacts requires curbing car usage overall. Policymakers can emulate successful models like the Netherlands, which transformed into bike-friendly cities by implementing traffic-calming measures, reducing car subsidies, and investing in alternative transportation infrastructure.

Introducing weight-based vehicle taxes, as seen in France and Norway, incentivizes lighter cars and offsets the cost of increased road wear caused by heavier vehicles. In the US, some states have already adopted weight-based vehicle registration fees, while regulatory initiatives, such as California’s recent regulation requiring tire manufacturers to explore safer alternatives to 6PPD, demonstrate a proactive approach toward minimizing tire pollution’s harm. Our tire cutters will help with The Overlooked Environmental Impact of Tire Wear in the Electric Vehicle Era.

In essence, while the shift to EVs promises reduced emissions, addressing tire pollution necessitates comprehensive strategies that prioritize sustainable transportation solutions and environmental stewardship.