How Long Does Rubber Mulch Last?
The UK produces around 55 million waste tyres a year. Since July 2003 whole tyres could no longer be taken to landfill for disposal in the UK, and since July 2006, shredded tyres could no longer be taken to landfill either. This poses a problem, which rubber mulch seems to have solved.
What is Rubber Mulch?
Rubber mulch is made from used rubber tyres of all sizes which are have the steel bands removed and are shredded into pellets, or crumb, of various sizes. Magnets are used to try to remove all the leftover bits of metal that could cause injury, after which colours can be added to the shredded rubber to give it a better appearance.
It is fast becoming a popular playground surface mostly because it has a reputation for being a great shock absorber. It is also used for covering surfaces like equestrian centres, artificial sports pitches and even for landscaping purposes.
Rubber mulch requires little maintenance, raking or replacing, and since it’s heavier than some natural alternatives it doesn’t blow around when it's windy.
It can last up to 10 years before it will need replacing.
This is all great, isn’t it...?
The Problems with Rubber Mulch
Although it seems like rubber mulch is solving the UK’s used tyre surplus, there are a few issues associated with scattering shredded rubber tyres over the ground.
It gets Very Hot
Although rubber mulch has great insulating properties when used as a landscaping ground cover, when it’s exposed to direct sunlight it gets very hot (and incidentally very smelly). The heat it soaks up from the sun can then kill the plants it’s meant to be protecting. Not ideal.
It Doesn’t Enrich the Soil
Rubber mulch does not provide essential nutrients which enriches the soil like a wood mulch or bark nuggets do as they decompose. Rubber mulch breaks down, but it doesn’t completely decompose like wood mulch, and since rubber mulch cannot be tilled into the soil, it must be painstakingly removed at the end of its life, which is not an easy task.
It is still not known if there are serious health implications associated with shredded rubber exposure. The dust it creates as it breaks down can be easily inhaled, and the carcinogenic chemicals it contains inevitably get into the children’s mouths. It is not recommended to use rubber mulch in nurseries or childcare settings where there is a possibility of young children and babies ingesting the rubber pellets.
Several highly toxic additives are used during the manufacture of tyres, such as zinc, chromium, lead, copper, cadmium and sulphur. These chemicals remain in the shredded tyres which comprise rubber mulch. There are some suggestions that these chemicals leach into the soil below and around the rubber mulch, especially during rainfall which results in the chemicals reaching our waterways, ground water and ultimately, our water supply.
The cost of rubber mulch is high in comparison to other, natural alternatives such as playground wood chip. Although it does last up to three times as long as these natural products. It’s also worth bearing in mind that since shredded rubbed is no longer allowed to go to landfill there may be additional charges to pay when it’s time to dispose of it.
More Research is Needed
One thing is certain, more research is required on the health and environmental impacts on using rubber mulch before it can confidently be chosen as a safe product to use as a children’s playground surface, or even for use as a landscaping surface, or on artificial sports pitches.
Eco-Friendly, Natural Alternatives to Rubber Mulch
There a number of wonderful natural, eco-friendly alternatives out there which can do the same job as rubber mulch.
If you are wondering what the best options for playground surfaces are, read our blog What are the Best Playground Surface Options?
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