Recycling Rubber for Revenue and a Better Environment
K & S Tire Recycling, Inc.
K & S Tire Recycling, Inc. processes scrap tires, turning old rubber into new products. Based in Chicago Heights, Illinois, this family-owned and operated company primarily works in the Midwest but aims to have a nationwide presence within a few years. For this firm, recycling tires has proven to be both a lucrative business venture and a boon to the environment.
“We are a tire processing facility. We do everything under one roof. We have multiple services we are able to offer our customers,” states CEO Kevin Khalil.
While automotive tires are the most common type of tire the company deals with, K & S doesn’t limit itself.
“We pretty much recycle anything with rubber, from a lawnmower tire up to a heavy construction equipment tire that is 10 feet high and four or five feet wide. From airplane tires, construction tires, and excavator tracks down to bicycle tires, we work with all type of tires… Anything that involves rubber, we accept and recycle,” says Khalil.
The process works like this: a client brings in tires they no longer need and pays a fee for K & S to take them off their hands. There is no minimum number of tires that can be dropped off and the firm’s tipping rates are competitively priced. K & S can also pick up tires from a location of the customer’s choosing. The firm maintains a fleet of vans, trucks, trailers, and other vehicles for tire hauling purposes.
Once the tires make it inside the K & S facility, they are broken down and turned into a range of recycled products. One of the most popular of these products, as processed by K & S, is playground mulch (soft rubber chips placed on playgrounds to ensure kids don’t injure themselves in case of a tumble). Garden mulch is another popular product K & S produces.
Scrap tires can also be transformed into crumb rubber, which is added to asphalt for paving roads. Other uses for recycled tire material include rubber gym mats, water- and urine-proof mats for pets, boat and shipping dock bumpers, door wedges and door stops, and waterproof umbrellas and weighted stands for patios.
If K & S processes a wide range of tires, its clientele is equally vast and varied. The firm accepts tires from individuals, auto dealerships, government agencies, auto repair shops (both mom and pop operations and national chains), neighborhood tire shops, and more. K & S works closely with officials in its hometown, gathering and recycling collections of illegally dumped tires for Chicago Heights. “We have a great relationship with [Chicago Heights]… we assist different municipalities to dispose of their tires, whether from city vehicles, resident clean up days or illegal dumping, at little or no cost to the tax payer.
The firm’s market reach extends across Illinois and into Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. K & S will soon be enhancing its presence with a pair of new plants, scheduled to open shortly in Wisconsin and Alton, Illinois. “We are on the final stages of construction and are set to go live within the next six months,” state Khalil.
For the Wisconsin plant, “We worked closely with the manufacturer, CM, in order to create the most efficient, state-of-the-art tire recycling line for the facility,” he continues. The Alton plant, intended to service the Missouri market among other locales, “will be similar to our other processing facilities, with some adjustments to fit the current market south of the Chicagoland area,” adds Khalil.
This dual launch will dramatically expand the company’s footprint: K & S currently operates out of a 40,000 square foot building in Chicago Heights based on approximately eight acres of land. The soon-to-be-opened Wisconsin plant will take up roughly 160,000 square feet on 11 acres while the Alton plant features a 20,000 square foot building on 22 acres.
The two new plants are evidence of the company’s explosive growth. K & S has expanded from roughly 40 employees this time last year to nearly 60 today, and that figure might double once the new plants start operations. Growth is being driven by K & S’s position at the forefront of the tire recycling sector, says Khalil.
Being “number one in the industry, if you do things right, you will succeed. We do all our business with the best of our abilities. We’re upfront, we’re honest, we provide quality service to all our customers,” states Khalil.
It also helps that K & S is on the level, and truly performs tire recycling services (some processing companies simply dump tires illegally, rather than recycle them). In fact, an eco-friendly spirit pervades K & S’s operations (“We keep two words at the forefront: preservation and sustainability” states the company website).
The K & S website also offers copious details about the environmental benefits of tire recycling. Most obviously, processing old tires eliminates used tire dumps, which are both unsightly and a major cause of air pollution should they catch fire. Re-using tires is an excellent way to put a green spin on rubber products that have reached the end of their useful life on vehicles. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), roughly 110 million tires are recycled annually by tire processing firms. Given that one billion new tires are created worldwide each year, tire recycling still has a way to go.
As part of its expansionary efforts, K & S recently aligned itself with the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). Based in Silver Spring, Maryland, SWANA describes itself as “the largest member based solid waste association in the world” with more than 10,000 members. SWANA is “committed to advancing from solid waste management to resource management” and strongly emphasizes recycling efforts, states the Association website.
“There’s a lot of information to gain and learn,” notes Khalil, about K & S’s relationship with SWANA.
Thanks to the company’s prominence in the industry, K & S doesn’t need to spend much on paid advertising. While the firm has a website and social media presence (Twitter and Facebook) it relies on positive word-of-mouth from satisfied customers and referrals for much of its business.
The company started out a decade ago as Khalil and Sons (i.e., K & S). Kevin’s father—a lifelong entrepreneur—established the business with him. Khalil Sr. passed on a few years ago, but the firm remains family-owned and operated, and Khalil has a pair of brothers who work for him and takes a family approach to staff relations.
“We definitely are happy to treat our employees like family, and have them succeed in their careers,” he states.
K & S takes this family focus into account when it comes to prospective new hires as well. “We’re definitely looking for family-oriented individuals and individuals that want to thrive and succeed in their careers. We look for somebody that does the job right the first time and is a team player, works well with different individuals, and is able to provide quality customer service,” states Khalil.
Thankfully, COVID did not have a huge impact on the company’s operations. “COVID was a very interesting couple of years,” recalls Khalil. “We had to really take precautions on safety, social distancing, having masks and sanitizer. Luckily, with taking all these precautions, we did not have any incidents. There were a lot of companies that got shut down for COVID. Fortunately, we continued to operate. The Transportation industry was considered vital, as it should be, so we continued to run with no issues.”
That said, the company does face certain challenges. While the economy has come back to life in recent months, following the worst of the COVID pandemic, a low unemployment rate means there’s a limited pool of people looking for jobs.
“One of the problems we face, like everybody in the country, is employment. If we had the opportunity to hire 20 employees today, we’ll take them on. It’s just a little bit difficult finding the right staff members at this time,” states Khalil.
While the plan is to remain focused on tires, the company sees further opportunity in non-rubber recyclable materials. “We’re a tire processing facility. At the same time, we process steel as well. By extracting all the steel from the tire or the rubber that produces a different avenue of revenue,” states Khalil.
Into the future, Khalil looks forward to establishing closer ties with SWANA and “learning more about the solid waste industry.” He also has big plans for K & S: “With the growth we are having and the expansion we are having, it shouldn’t be that long before we become a national company,” he states.