Recycling Scrap Rubber Tires into Playground Surfaces, Mulch and Bark

A playground in Fremont, California using a poured playground surface made from recycled scrap tires.
A playground in Fremont, California using a poured playground surface made from recycled scrap tires. | Source

Scrap tires used in recycling

Tires are one of those things that we pretty much can't live without (at least if you have a car you can't) but that we pretty much have to also learn to live with once they have served our purposes (no longer on our cars). Disposing of scrap and recycled tires can be a real headache, but many companies, recognizing the need to dispose of these cumbersome donuts, have learned new and creative ways to re-cycle, re-purpose and re-invent with old tires. One of the uses that has really taken off in California is using recycled tires as playground mulch, bark and on playground surfaces.

I have been to several parks in the San Francisco Bay Area that are using this technology, and using it well.

Types of rubber playground surfaces being used today:

  • Poured surfaces
  • Mulch
  • Bark

The dangers of unsafe playgrounds

As an art teacher, mother and grandmother, one of the things that I have always enjoyed is taking my kids to the park. Most of us have done this and some of us have also heard about awful playground tragedies leading to serious injuries and even death. Many of these injuries have occurred because of falls on hard concrete or other hard surfaces that playgrounds have traditionally been made with.

Did you know that 90% of playground structures are considered unsafe? And it's mainly due to the poor and/or inadequate surfaces. More than 200,000 playground injuries end up in the emergency room every year. That is an astonishing 500 plus visits per day! And those are just the emergency room visits, not counting private visits to doctors (information gathered from Rubber Recycle)

Rubber mulch and bark
Rubber mulch and bark | Source

Playground mulch and rubber bark

Playground mulch and rubber bark is being used today and replacing the use of traditional wood tan-bark - and it has many advantages over the use of tanbark. It is:

  • safer
  • more cost-effective
  • durable
  • environmentally friendly
  • lower maintenance
  • cleaner (minimizing dust and particles)
  • does not splinter
  • longer lasting (up to 10 times longer)
  • retains it's color and vibrancy
  • does not stain clothes
  • saves tires from the landfill

Rubber Mulch and recycled bark is such a softer surface than traditional wood mulch and concrete that impact studies have shown a significant reduction in contusion and head-related injuries.

Poured rubber playground surface at a local park.
Poured rubber playground surface at a local park. | Source

Poured playground surfaces and surfacing

Another playground surface gaining popularity in playgrounds around the U.S. is "poured rubber surfacing". This is done through a company that comes out to the site, bids, designs, fabricates and then pours the rubber material into a custom shape for the playground.

One of these poured applications has been done at a playground in Fremont, Ca. through a grant, which saved over 800 tires from the landfill by using this new technology. Not only did they save tires but they have created a beautiful, soft and safe surface for the children to play on.

A few weeks ago when I visited this park with my class I was absolutely amazed at how soft and nice the surface was. It put me at ease with the children and visually it was very clean, bright and even to walk on.

Playground rubber surfacing, that is poured in place, gives you the ability to create custom designed rubber surfacing for playgrounds that are ADA compliant and exceed playground fall height regulations.


Status of tire recycling and disposal in the United States

Number of scrap tires generated annually:
290 million
Percentage of total solid waste generated:
2.0 percent
Number of scrap tires going to a market:
233 million
Number of scrap tires used for fuel:
130 million
Number of scrap tires used in civil engineering projects:
56 million
Number of scrap tires used in ground rubber applications:
28 million
Number of scrap tires punched/stamped into new products:
7 million
Number of tires exported:
9 million
Number of tires in stockpiles:
265 million
(Data gathered from 2003 statistics, Rubber Manufacturers Association)

Comments 22 comments

akirchner profile image

akirchner 4 years ago from Central Oregon

Really cool topic and it's good to see things recycled in ANY fashion these days....I always wondered about what they did with the tires and now I know a lot more about it. Do you think it's environmentally safe and pet friendly for sure? I ask because I'm always looking for ways to improve what I do in my own backyard literally---but I try to stay inside the "safety" zone when it comes to my dogs...and what we expose us to as well. Love the pictures---what a neat reinvestment!

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 4 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area Author

@akirchner) Thanks for reading and yes, what a great way to recycle tires. There has been some concern over possible leaching of tires but all the info I have read on it states the playground materials pass all environmental testing. As with anything, there probably has got to be some cons (which I couldn't come up with) but the injury decrease on playgrounds is significant with the rubber. I know I felt so much safer for the kids when they played on it.

As for dogs, I couldn't have it because of the puppies. What a field day they would have with rubber. Oh my!

Maddie Ruud profile image

Maddie Ruud 4 years ago from Oakland, CA

I've been to these playgrounds too, and I think it's a great idea! Not only does it divert waste from our landfills, but it often makes playgrounds safer. I remember falling on concrete in many a playground as a kid, and getting some nasty scrapes. The poured rubber is slightly bouncy, which really cuts down on the damage from falls.

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 4 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area Author

@Maddie) These playgrounds sure do feel good on the feet, don't they? I am really loving that they are cutting down on playground accidents, that's one place where we should at least feel safe taking our kids...

B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Excellent hub. Great idea. Up, Useful, Interesting, 3 10s, and shared.

The playground in Friendship Square in downtown Moscow, Idaho has a soft and bouncy poured rubber surface. An added benefit is that standing or walking on that surface is a delightful relief for adults with tired feet.

Would rubber sidewalks be feasible, especially at places like where pedestrians wait for a stop and go light to turn green?

How about restaurant kitchen floors?

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 4 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area Author

@B. Leekley) That's an interesting idea about the sidewalks. Wouldn't that be great to walk on? And def the restaurant kitchen floors - wonder how cost effective it is compared to other surfaces? I'll have to find out... Thanks for coming by and the great comment!

mecheshier profile image

mecheshier 4 years ago

Fantastic green Hub here. Love the stats report and your suggestions. Voted up for useful and awesome. Thanks!

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 4 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area Author

Thanks mecheshier :-)

rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

Your article is both informative and interesting! Thanks for sharing! (Voted up)

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

Interesting to learn more about recycling scrap rubber tires for use as playground surfaces. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for a post that helps spread the word about this topic!

StoneCircle profile image

StoneCircle 3 years ago from Rindge, NH

Great article on how to go green even in our community playgrounds. This shopuld make the playgrounds safer for young and old never mind keeping tires out of landfills.

Congrats on HOTD! Thumbs up

justthemessenger profile image

justthemessenger 3 years ago from The Great Midwest

I am an avid hiker/jogger/bicycler. While reading this my mind shifted from the playground to the trail ways. I could not help but think that tracks and trails made from old tires would be much easier on the body, specifically the knees, then the traditional concrete counterparts. It looks like old tires are giving us new hope.

anatomynotes profile image

anatomynotes 3 years ago

This is a very interesting way to give life to old tires. It is great to see how recycling not only reduces cost but can also conserves resources, saves energy and it is good for the environment. Thanks!

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 3 years ago from USA

Congratulations on your well-deserved Hub of the Day! Using old tires on playground surfaces sounds like an excellent idea! I really like the idea of the poured rubber surfaces. Recently, we had a picnic near a playground with rubber mulch, and thought it was a great idea, especially under the jungle gym. I'm sure it saves a lot of injuries when kids land on a bed of rubber versus mulch or dirt. Great topic! Voted up and share!

vertualit profile image

vertualit 3 years ago from Bangladesh

congratulations!! your hub on hub of the day. Great hub thanks

janderson99 profile image

janderson99 3 years ago from Australia on Planet Water

What about chemical residues from the synthetic rubber. Maybe Bark is better because it don't Bite!

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 3 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Using recycled rubber tires for playground surfaces is such an awesome idea. I've seen this a couple of times and thought it was really neat. I wasn't sure what the surface was until I read this hub. Thanks. Voted and sharing!

Tom Schumacher profile image

Tom Schumacher 3 years ago from Huntington Beach, CA

Congrats on the "Hub of the Day!" Interesting topic to share. I really appreciate ingenious recycling ideas, but I am curious to know about rubber tire by-product concerns. For instance, some forms of sands once thought safe were later found harmful to the lungs because of silica dust - a condition known as silicosis. Your feedback is appreciated. Thanks!

Naomi's Banner profile image

Naomi's Banner 3 years ago from United States

Great Hub. I really liked the topic. Rubber playground surfaces are quite nice. I frequently take my grandchildrent to the playgrounds and tend to gravitate to the ones with rubber surfaces.

jlama 3 years ago

Recycled rubber i always thought, could be used to raise MANHOLE COVERS. It is quite a job to set-up for raising w/ masonry - whereas different thicknesses of rubber set in an environmentally friendly adhesive/ or dry, then the regular finish of macadam worked around the casting hole frame. They are dead heavy by themselves - they ain't moving !!

Better Yourself profile image

Better Yourself 3 years ago from North Carolina

Very interesting topic, as I can relate having been badly injured myself on the playground as a kid. What a great idea - we should always be promoting and supporting ways to recycle and even better creating a safer environment for kids. Congrats on Hub of the Day!

Dorsi profile image

Dorsi 3 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area Author

@Rose) Thank you!

@RTalloni) Thank you RT. It was a very nice surprise.

@StoneCircle) Thank you Stone. Yes it is much safer.

@justthemessenger) Yes Just that is a good idea. Maybe they will think to do this with trails too.

@anatomynotes) YW and I agree - use what we have already made!

@Stephanie Henkel) Thank you Stephanie and I think it's a lot more sanitary and cleaner than tanbark.

@vertualit) Thanks for reading!

@janderson99) I would hope that they have made sure this is safe to use!

@vocalcoach) YW and thanks for reading!

@Tom Schumacher) Great question Tom. I really hope they've tested this application well.

@Naomi's Banner) Thanks Naomi and yes, it sure does feel good on the feet.

@jlama) Hmm... good idea!

@Better Yourself) Thanks Better and I agree.

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