Driving around Memphis these days, especially off the Poplar corridor, you might see something puzzling:
Tires dropped here and there or dumped in large quantities. These tires, left by small haulers trying to avoid a disposal fee, litter neighborhoods across the city. They not only are unsightly but also foster unhealthy conditions by retaining water that becomes a breeding ground for mosquitos. The tires also represent valuable materials that can be used if collected properly and recycled.
Recently, there have been strategies to collect these tires for a higher use. Devin James (AKA the sexiest man in recycling) launched Refurban in 2017 on Florida Street in South Memphis at the former Kroger Bakery. This 77,000-square-foot facility is where James is bringing his vision of upcycling, repurposing and recycling materials to life. Although his facility works with companies to process materials such as cardboard, some plastics and other items, his recent focus has turned to tires.
In January, James launched the first of a series of tire roundups with Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and other partners on MLK Day of Service. This effort, known as Tires to Trails, will utilize up to 36,000 dumped tires from Shelby County that will be recycled and processed into a porous paving surface for the new bike and pedestrian trails at TO Fuller Park. These tires were shipped to East Tennessee to a recycling center for processing.
Additionally, Refurban became a strategic partner with the City of Memphis and Shelby County for their tire redemption program in January. This program paid individuals $1 per tire for collecting dumped tires throughout this city. The two-day event yielded over 55,000 tires that will be shipped to a recycling facility in Alabama and made into other useful materials.
Refurban was ground central for both events, but James isn’t stopping there.
Currently, there is no tire recycling center in West Tennessee, which means tires must be shipped out of state or to East Tennessee. Shipping tires is not the best environmental option and results in a lost opportunity for job growth here locally.
Memphis needs its own tire recycling center and Refurban is determined to be that center. James is now working with these same City of Memphis partners on a funding strategy to purchase a tire shredder for his operation.
If Refurban is successful in obtaining the necessary funds needed for equipment, it could fill a void in the local and regional market and grow James’s business in the South Memphis community. This would be a win for the city and county tire programs and for Refurban, who employs at-risk youth and ex-offenders.