Hard Times: Cash For Old Tires

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Would you pick up old tires and haul them away for 50 cents apiece?

The city of Memphis and Shelby County hope so. A plan will be presented next week that puts a 50-cent bounty on old tires taken to the Shelby County Recycling Facility. It also cracks down on used-tire haulers who illegally dump hundreds of them at a time after picking through the ones they can resell.

The intent is laudable — beautification, blight removal, a little economic stimulus, and a small, potentially useful thing at a time when governments are strapped to do big things. But the economics are so brutal they could make can hunting or journalism seem attractive.

City Councilman Harold Collins and County Commissioner Steve Mulroy are leading the way. Junkers will get paid after a five-day waiting period while some checking is done to make sure tires have not been stolen. The program will last six months, backed by $50,000 each from the city and county.

If it works as well as aluminum can recycling, it could be a hit, although simple math suggests that for someone to make any folding money on this deal they may need a pickup truck or an awfully big shopping cart and a lot of stamina. The small cache of tires in the accompanying photograph, for example, would net the scavenger $6 before the cost of gasoline and elbow grease.

Collins says the program could work because there are many neighborhoods where junked tires are so abundant that an ambitious entrepreneur could fill a pickup truck in short order. Plus, it cost the city $10,000 to clean up an illegal dump near Warford and Interstate 240 recently.

The longer-term plan is aimed at the haulers who work with Wal-Mart, Goodyear, and other volume dealers. Basically, it will require a permit, a manifest that attests to the accuracy of the payload, restrictions on the number of tires dumped in a single space, and a crackdown on haulers who resell some of their load and illegally dump the rest.

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