Spontaneous heating of piled tyre shred and rubber crumb - Briefing note


Waste tyres have a number of important uses as: fuels, construction materials or as raw materials in the production of rubber shred or crumb. In many of these applications whole tyres have to be chopped into small chips. In some cases chips are ground much more finely and the metal content of the tyres is removed.

Chopping and grinding of tyres produces a low density, porous material through which air may percolate. The total surface area of tyre chips or crumb particles may also be large compared with the volume occupied. The combination of permeability to air-flow and a high exposed surface area means that that a combustible material such as rubber is potentially susceptible to spontaneous combustion.

Practical experience

In practice spontaneous ignition of large stockpiles of tyre shred or deep landfill deposits has occurred on numerous occasions. Practical experience suggests auto-ignition normally occurs in large stockpiles (more than 3 metres deep). Finely shredded tyres are more susceptible because of the increased surface area available for reaction.

Surface symptoms of the onset of spontaneous combustion can be subtle: a slight sulphurous odour, condensation aerosols emerging from vents or evidence of oil contamination of rainwater draining through the tyre shred. The fire may intensify from smouldering to flaming as the combustion wave reaches the surface or if the pile is disturbed – allowing ingress of additional air.

Comparisons with other materials

Laboratory experiments show that rubber crumb and tyre shred are more susceptible to self-heating than cellulosic materials (like hay and straw) in conditions of high ambient temperature. Typically a given volume of tyre shred will spontaneously ignite at a lower ambient temperature that an equivalent volume of hay. On the other hand tyre shred is not as prone to biological heating that raises the internal temperature above ambient and may act as a trigger to spontaneous combustion.

Controlled experiments suggest that even piles of clean tyre shred or rubber crumb with a depth greater than around one metre may spontaneously ignite from ambient temperatures, if the level of ventilation is unfavourable. The initiation times are generally long (many weeks).

Factors increasing risk

The risk of ignition in practical circumstances may be raised by contamination of the tyres (which may allow biological heating in damp conditions) or by the rusting of exposed wires (which also generates heat). The stripping of rubber from wire in the tyre chopping process may be associated with blunting of blades in the shredding machine.

Mitigation of ignition risk

Many of the standard methods of protection against spontaneous combustion are applicable to tyre shred:

  • Control of material risk factors eg exposed metal content, proportion of    'fines' 1
  • Minimise pile size 2
  • Control of moisture levels
  • Management of stock to prevent piles being left for long periods
  • Sub-surface temperature monitoring
  • Turning of piles at risk of spontaneous heating
  • Minimising external heating eg shading from direct sunshine
  • Control of ventilation by enclosure - if possible

Obviously localised sources of heat eg heating pipes, light bulbs, space heaters, braziers, shrink-wrapping guns equipment etc should be kept away from piles of tyre shred.

Fire fighting

Once established, combustion in large piles of tyre shred and rubber crumb is difficult to suppress. Direct application of water or foam in situ does not generally provide effective extinguishment and may hamper control of oily run-off pollution.
The first priority is separation of unburned material from the fire to restrict the extent of spread. It may be possible to remove burning material from the fire and finally extinguish with water or by burial.

Without appropriate controls during fire-fighting there is potential for serious occupational exposure for fire service personnel and heavy equipment operators, from poly-aromatic hydrocarbons, oxides of sulphur and other harmful combustion products.

Further reading

  • Safe Storage  - Combustible materials, prevent and control fire: PPG29 -   These guidelines are being produced by the Environment Agency
  • 'Self-heating properties of styrene butadiene rubber', Beyler, C., Fire and   Materials (2006) 30:p215-221.
  • 'Scrap and Shredded tire fires – Special Report' United States Fire Administration (1998)
  • 'Using tire chips in landfill leachate collection and removal systems', New   York State Department of Environmental Conservation - Division of Solid & Hazardous Materials (2003). Available via Federation of New York Solid Waste Associations
  • 'Guideline for prevention and management of scrap tire fires', Rubber Manufacturers Association Pub #: GEN-021 (1992), Available via Rubber Manufacturers Association

Annex – Design guidelines to minimise internal heating of tyre shred fills

Civil Engineering Committee (1997), Scrap tyre Management Council, Washington DC.

The following recommendations apply to tyre chip layers less than 3 metres deep and greater than 1 metre deep. Layers deeper than 3 metres are not recommended. Lower standards are accepted for layers thinner than 1 m.

  • Tyre shreds shall be free of contaminants such as oil, grease, petrol, diesel fuels etc., that could create a fire hazard.
  • In no case should the tyre shreds contain the remains of tyres that have been subjected to fire.
  • Tyre shreds shall have a maximum of 25% (by weight) passing a 38 mm sieve.
  • Tyre shreds shall have a maximum of 1% (by weight) passing a 4.75 mm sieve
  • Tyre shreds shall be free of fragments of wood , wood chips and other fibrous organic matter.
  • Tyre shreds shall have less than 1% (by weight) of metal fragments that are not at least partially encased in rubber.
  • Metal fragments that are partially encased in rubber shall protrude no more than 25mm from the cut end of the tyre shred on 75% of the pieces and by no more than 50mm on 100% of the pieces.
  • Infiltration into the tyre shred will be minimised
  • No direct contact between tyre shred and soil containing organic material eg topsoil.
  • Tyre shred should be separated from soil with a geotextile.
  • Use of drainage features at the base of the fill that could provide air access should be avoided.


  1. See Annex - Scrap tyre Management Council guidelines. Back to reference of footnote 1
  2. Piles should not be deeper than 3m. Back to reference of footnote 2

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Updated 2021-04-26