Jason Rathay is taking recycling to a new level.
â€œItâ€™s not trash, thatâ€™s for sure,â€ the 38-year-old Bronson resident said of the sea of tires on his 13-acre farmÂ outside the city on State Road 24.
â€œIâ€™ve always seen tires stacked up,â€Â he added, â€œand you wonder, â€˜What are they ever going to do with them? What are they for? What could you build with them?’â€
Poultry and emu farmers by trade, Rathay and his wife, Misty, are taking on a new venture â€”Â called â€œthe Earthship Projectâ€ â€”Â to find a new purpose for hundreds of used tires.
Specifically, the plan is toÂ use the tires asÂ construction materialÂ byÂ packing themÂ with mud and stackingÂ them to form walls, barriers and other structures.
The end products heâ€™s aiming for: animal pens, a sound-barrier wall to block noise from State Road 24, an animal playground and maybe even a house.Â Itâ€™ll all serve a purpose on his farm, Bronsonâ€™s Hot Chicks, home to pigs, goats, rabbits, a peacock, quails, ducks, turkeys, 17 emus and other animals â€” some used for their eggs, some simply kept there.
â€œWe want to build our own ship right here,â€ Rathay said, making a pun of the Earthship Project name. â€œNoah had his ark. It was a massive ship. Why not build our own right here?â€
The idea of upcyclingÂ items for construction began in the â€™70s. Earlier this month,Â Rathay decided to launch his own project by collecting tires from people aroundÂ Levy CountyÂ by posting on the countyâ€™s Word of Mouth Facebook page for donations.
He estimates he now has almost 1,500 tires on his property, and he plans to begin building with them on Nov. 5.
â€œOvernight, we had over a thousand brought in,â€ Rathay said.
Rathayâ€™s effortsÂ havenâ€™t drawn any negative attention from officials.
Normally, 1,500 or more tires on a property would mean obtaining a permit because theÂ site would be considered a â€œwaste tire site,â€Â state law says, with the owner charging a fee for disposal.
Or the used tires are handled by the county government also for a fee, said Travis Newsome ofÂ Levy County Solid Waste.
â€œWe take the tires to the landfill,â€ he said,Â â€œand once we have enough, we fill up a semi-truck and take them down to Wildwood,â€ where Global Tire Recycling grinds themÂ into mulch forÂ use in playgrounds, equestrian areas and other landscaping projects.
But because Rathayâ€™s operation is based on donations and heâ€™s recycling them for his own purposes, not profit, there hasnâ€™t been any action from officials.
For his plans,Â Rathay isÂ getting instructions fromÂ Earthship Biotecture, a the New Mexico-based company that offers plans on structures from upcycled materials.
The biggest one-time donation of tires Rathay received was from Levy Boys Tire Recycling owner Dustin Seale, a permitted waste-tire collector with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
After checking with the Florida DEP to get the OK, Seale said he donated between 500Â and 600 tires.
â€œWe can collect about 1,200 tires in 10 days,â€Â he said. â€œ[We gave him] not even a quarter of what we normally collect.â€
But problems with waste-tire sites persist.
Tim Townsend, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Florida, said tires can easily retain water and subsequently breed mosquitos, which leads to the spread of disease.
Rathay said heâ€™s aware of that issue but noted the insect-eating animals on his property.
â€œWe have over 200 ducks, [and] that naturally takes care of all bugs and pests,â€ he said, adding that heâ€™s thankful there hasnâ€™tÂ been much rain lately. â€œThe animals themselves are their own pest control.â€
Another problem is thatÂ tires are extremely flammable and contain harmful pollutants if set aflame, Townsend said.Â If tire piles do catch on fire, they could quickly become out of control.
However, TownsendÂ said heÂ believes thatÂ if the proper precautions are taken to preventÂ such issues, Rathayâ€™sÂ newfound purpose for the tiresÂ isnâ€™t of concern.
Over the weekend, Rathay invited volunteers to help organize the tires according to size.
Volunteer David Hyatt heard about Rathayâ€™s project on Facebook and decided to bring along fourÂ teenagersÂ to help.
â€œDoesnâ€™t hurt for them to do a little physical labor and get away from the video games for a day,â€ he said.
Along withÂ contributing toÂ his farm, Rathay said he believes it also benefits the community.
â€œEverything weâ€™re trying to do is non-profit,â€Â he said. â€œOnce we get the tires and start building, we also haveÂ 2 acres of the pasture land that weâ€™re going to have the community have their own vegetable garden.â€
OnceÂ they get the hang of tire construction, the Rathays saidÂ theirÂ next project will be even bigger.
â€œOur goal is to figure out how to build with the tires now [and then] to build our home in a few years,â€ said Misty Rathay, whoâ€™s working on gettingÂ Bronsonâ€™s Hot Chicks its nonprofit certification.
The Rathays said they hope their project will startÂ the trend in the community ofÂ everyoneÂ being healthier and more environmentally conscious.
â€œIt just takes the time and effort for someone to be able to do it,â€ JasonÂ Rathay said.