Major tire manufacturers, including Bridgestone, are funding research into a plant that can be used to create sustainable tires to replace conventional tires, each requiring 14 gallons of “petroleum […] to produce a standard tire.”
The plant, guayule (pronounced “wy-oo-lee”), is a flowering shrub native to the Chihuahuan Desert. It requires half the water of crops that also grow in climates such as Arizona, where water restrictions have taken effect following a 27-year drought that has drastically lowered water in the Colorado river.
Not only does the plant require about half the water used by crops such as alfalfa and cotton, it also has a number of other advantages to the environment:
- It is drought tolerant.
- Once established, the guayule shrub is resistant to agricultural pest, lygus bugs, and can serve as a kind of fence around other crops more susceptible to the bugs.
- A flowering shrub, the plant attracts pollinators and “good” predatory insects that are natural enemies to bugs that eat the crops.
- Guayule is harvested only once every two years and reduces the number of tractors needed and needs less attention and resources across its growing cycle.
Will Thelander, a farmer in Pinal County Arizona, is participating in trials sponsored by tire manufacturers, who want an alternative to the southeast Asian hevea rubber trees, which are not always available due to shifting demands and conflict. Thelander says, “You have a billion dollar company like Bridgestone behind something. And they’re guaranteeing prices. It can provide stability for a farmer.”
Less water and reduced environmental impact, along with additional stability for farmers, makes the case for environmentally sustainable options, including for making tires.