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‘Where the Rubber Meets the Road’ on tire recycling

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Since moving to Brazil from Ireland if there is one thing that has stood out more than anything else, is has been the quantity and quality of the roads here in Rio. Not only do they go on for miles and miles but they can be full of traffic as well as being in a pretty sorry state. My student, Nuno, gave me the idea for today’s post and I hope it resonates with you. Now tire mountains can be recycled to make stronger, quieter and smoother roads! Genius Right?!

Hope you enjoy this lesson and don’t forget to drop a comment on the comments box below

Keep Learning it, Loving it!

Teacher Chloe:-)


What is the most popular way to get around? car / bus / metro / walking

What do you think about the quality of roads in your country?

How do you think rubber is recycled in your country.


To practice your pronunciation record yourself reading out loud onto you smart phone’s recording app then play back and listen. Your ear will help you self correct 😉 This reading text and comprehension questions have been modified from an excellent learning resource http://classic.jason.org 

Have you ever been asked if you had a latex allergy? Latex is one name for natural rubber. The special properties of latex rubber make it ideal for many purposes, including automobile tires. You can find it in many other everyday products like mats and track surfaces, mouse pads, and elastics.

Natural rubber is sometimes called India rubber or caoutchouc (cow-chook). It is an elastic hydrocarbon polymer. That means its molecules are much like loose pieces of rope. They stretch and fold. When rubber is stretched the long molecules can no longer vibrate. Their extra energy is released as heat.

Natural rubber comes from the sap of tropical trees. Even though synthetic rubber can now be produced, the natural form still comprises about 45 percent of the rubber we use. It provides some of the raw material for automobile tires.


Rubber Molecule
Image credit: Polymer Science Learning Center

But growing rubber trees places strains on tropical environments. A rubber tree lives for about 32 years. When it grows it uses a great deal of water and nutrients especially during the seasons when water is scarce. Many regions of the world where rubber trees are grown are suffering droughts due to climate change. So re-using the rubber we harvest takes on added importance.

When rubber was first used for products in Europe in the 18th Century it became an instant fad. But rubber boots were soft in the summer sun and brittle in winter heat. Charles Goodyear invented a way to make it more durable in 1839. Vulcanization changes the bonds between rubber’s long molecules. That improves its resistance and elasticity in lower temperatures.

To make a tire, carbon black is often added to make rubber even stronger. About 21 percent of today’s passenger tires are made from natural rubber. Synthetic rubber represents 27 percent and carbon black 28 percent. Because tires are not only rubber but contain steel belts, they must be processed for recycling. There are two main ways to do this. The tires can be frozen (cryogenics) to separate out the rubber. Another method is called ambient grinding. The difference in the two processes is that cryogenics produces a rubber particle that has a smooth surface area and ambient grinding produces a rough surface area. Each process as specific uses in the industry, although ambient grinding is used more often.


Comprehension Questions

  1. Name two properties of rubber
  2. Why does natural rubber need special processing before we use it?
  3. Describe the shape of a rubber molecule
  4. What property of rubber makes it good for tires, mouse pads, and tracks?
  5. Describe a cycle where natural rubber is used and then recycled. Conduct research to help you as necessary.

Video Time!

Here are some expressions and phrasal verbs you may not be familiar with that pop up in the video

  • Pilling up: accumulating
  • Getting rid of something / to throw something out: to dispose of something
  • Come up with: to imagine an idea
  • To end up: the final position, state or location of something or someone
  • An eye sore: something ugly
  • Landfill sites: rubbish dumps
  • Only a handful have been built: only a small number have been built
  • Scrap tires: old tires
  • Shredding into strips: mechanically cutting into long pieces
  • The difference was striking: the difference was obvious

Here’s a great video about car tires! No I’m not being sarcastic it’s actually really interesting and environmentally responsible too so that alone gets the Learning it, Loving it vote! (Go Green!) Get ready to practice those numbers!

  1. How many tires are thrown away every year? (1:10)
  2. Where do the old tires end up? (1:18)
  3. How much land is covered by the tire pile in Smithfield, Rode Island, the second largest in the US? (1:34)
  4. How many tires are estimated to be in this pile? (1:40)
  5. How much oil is contained in a single tire? (2:02)
  6. How long did the tire pile in Virginia burn for? (2:16)
  7. How many tires are piled up in rubber moutains around the whole country? (2:40)
  8. Why can’t tires be buried in landfill sites? (3:05)
  9. How are the steel belts within tires removed? (4:14)
  10. What does a traditional asphalt mix consist of? 3 ingredients (4:25)
  11. What thicknesses are needed for conventional asphalt and rubberised asphalt? (5:00)
  12. Apart from making the road stronger, what other properties does crumb rubber add? (5:24)


Write a paragraph to your local political representative on on how rubber could be recycled in your country. Refer to the points in the video and include the new vocabulary above. 

Try it out for yourselves and then have a look at my attempt. Good luck and don’t forget to post in the comments box below!

Dear Representative,

The legislation addressing the recycling of scrap tires is of paramount interest to me because I am an English Teacher that goes past a landfill site with waste rubber tires piled up in mountains everyday. Not only does this issue negatively impact on our environment but it is a terrible eye sore. There is a company in the US that has come up with a solution

When old, bald tires are got rid of they currently end up in rubbish dumps.  I propose a new system is put into place where old tires are shredded into strips and the metal removed by magnets. Then when these tires are converted into crumb rubber we use this material in new roads to make them quieter, smoother and more durable.

Thank you for your consideration of my viewpoint on this matter. I believe it is an important issue, and would like to see the legislation pass to ensure a cleaner, more green planet for our children.


Teacher Chloe


Watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix or similar and tell your teacher next class 5 words (expressions) you’ve learned.

Get some popcorn and have fun. Don’t stress over it if you don’t understand everything they say. It’s a treat to just sit down and listen to English for a while.

Listening Answers

1. 250,000,000 tires
2. In a tire pile / dump
3. 14 acres
4. 10,000,000
5. up to 1 gallon
6. 9 months
7. 2 – 3 billion tires
8. Their built in air pockets help them make their way back to the surface
9. The steel belts are removed by magnets
10. Crushed stone, oil and sand
11. Traditional asphalt 4″ and rubberised asphalt only needs 2″
12. Crumb rubber also makes roads smoother and quieter

Don’t forget to drop your comments, questions or even answers in the comments box below!


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Featured Image by David Edelstein

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