4 billion plastic bottles could be recycled into Michelin tires annually

Plastic waste is a global problem, and organizations, corporations, and even individuals worldwide are looking to find solutions to help reduce or recycle plastic. More eco-friendly packaging options are being evaluated. Manufacturing processes are being revised. Even individual homeowers are getting in on it by using eco bags and avoiding products plackaged in plastic.

Michelin has a rather unusual idea: the French tire manufacturer announced that it plans to turn millions of plastic bottles into, well, tires.

Michelin recently partnered with French biochemistry corporation Cabrios for a plastic recycling technology that it calls "enzymatic". The technology will break down certain types of plastic that can then be used to make new objects. In this situation, it will be used to create polyester yarn, a necessary material in tire manufacturing. Unlike traditional PET recycling that uses thermo-mechanical recycling, Cabrios' approach preserves the product's integrity. As a result, tires that incorporate such a compound wouldn't sacrifice performance or quality; two things that Michelin are known for.

“In 2019, we announced the production of the first PET bottles with 100% Purified Terephthalic Acid (rPTA) from the enzymatic recycling of used plastics. Today, with Michelin, we are demonstrating the full extent of our process by obtaining, from these same used plastics, a recycled PET suitable for highly technical fibers,” said Cabios scientific director Alain Marty.

Michelin calls the process “infinite recycling” and says around 4 billion plastic bottles could be recycled into its tire annually. The manufacturer aims to have 40% of materials used in its tires to be renewable or recyclable by 2030. By 2050, Michelin hopes to bring that number up to 100%.

So no, the entire tire won't be made out of recycled plastic, but it would find another use for 4 billion plastic bottles annually. The only question is this: wouldn't a tire that incorporates such recycled plastics also release those particles as the tire wears down?