Tires: The perfect breeding ground

One of the themes of my trip to Panama was used tires. Everywhere I went there were tires littering the sides of the roads or haphazardly stacked up by houses. I started pointing them out to our bus full of students and pretty soon they were calling them out to me too and laughing with me at the absurdity. I kept asking how is it possible to have this many tires?! Then, naturally, we would drive over a huge pothole and I would get my answer.

As part of my undergraduate work at West Point I took classes on environmental engineering and the development of sanitation for developing countries. Now as a graduate student I am taking a much closer look at how the environment affects health. One of the things that has always been present in the literature is that to get rid of mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit, individuals and communities must get rid of the breeding grounds. So many of these articles specifically mentioned tires. I did not understand how right they were until I went to Panama and saw these discarded tires everywhere. Tires are perfect for collecting water, the do not easily drain, the edges are perfect for mosquitoes to lay their eggs, and tires do not break down easily. Additionally, it is relatively difficult to recycle a tire completely.

After seeing all these tires we asked a lot of questions of the vector control team at the Las Mañanitas health clinic. The team explained that they did not have any recycling programs and that sometime tire companies would dump their old tires on the sides of rural roads to avoid paying the disposal fees.

TiresWhen we shadowed the vector control team we cam across a community effort to turn tires into planters. However since they did not fill the tires up to the brim with dirt/rocks the tires were still able to collect water. Additionally someone else came and dumped more tires on top of the ones that were filled.

During our final brief to the Health Clinic we included a slide with some recommendations on how to reuse or recycle tires. There are definitely some creative ideas, including retaining wallsroofing, stools, palm trees and flip flops:


Also, after spending so much time looking up uses for tires my computer suggested this article on using recycled rubber from tires as an ingredient in durable concrete.

There are definitely many options out there for recycling and reusing old tires. Definitely much better than providing a home for mosquitoes! Anyone want to help Panama start a tire recycling kick-starter!?!

Sara Schubert is a student in USC’s Master of Public Health online program.  Learn more about the annual MPH trip to Panama at


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