Seven Advantages And Two Disadvantages Of Recycled Tire Mulch

by Nicola Temple on October 7, 2011

Recycled tire mulch is made entirely from recycled car tires. The used tires are ground up into chunks, nuggets, crumbs and even shredded to be used in a variety of ways including on playgrounds, equestrian arenas, and of course, as landscaping mulch.

I had my first exposure with tire crumbs while playing ultimate Frisbee on an artificial turf field. I dove for the disc, ended up on the ground and came out of it injury free and covered in little pieces of rubber the size of large grains of sand.

These rubbery surfaces have a number of advantages, but when it comes to playgrounds, playing fields and equestrian arenas it is their shock absorption that makes them superior in reducing injuries. I have to admit I was quite grateful for this characteristic after my tumble on the ultimate pitch.

However, when used as mulch, shock absorption isn’t necessarily a quality you’re looking for, even if you’re a guerrilla gardener!  So what are the advantages of recycled tire mulch?

recycled tire mulch

Recycled tire mulch is a common ground material for playgrounds as it absorbs impacts better than most other materials, providing a safer landing for adventurous children. CC image courtesy of Rubberecycle Mulch on Flickr.

Seven advantages of recycled tire mulch:

  • It requires very little maintenance.
  • It doesn’t rot and therefore doesn’t require periodic replacing – it lasts a lifetime.
  • It won’t attract insects, molds or harbor diseases like a natural wood mulch will.
  • It’s non-abrasive so you won’t have to worry about getting splinters.
  • If it’s used as a mulch under a child’s playground it does provide better shock absorption than other commonly used materials.
  • It recycles an infinitely available resource – car tires.
  • It’s odorless and can be purchased in a variety of colors to meet your esthetic needs.

Two (big) disadvantages of recycled tire mulch:

  • According to a report by the non-profit organisation Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), a number of toxic chemicals are released from the recycled tire mulch.  The chemicals had a variety of effects on human health including: severe irritation of the respiratory system, severe irritation of the eyes, skin and mucous membranes, systematic effects on the liver and kidneys,  neurotoxic responses, allergic reactions, developmental effects, and cancers. They recommended further testing and minimizing exposure to such surfaces. Nancy Alderman, President of EHHI, discusses this further in this video.

  • In 1997, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture conducted a study showing ground rubber may have potential toxicity to plants due to high levels of zinc. They deemed it unsuitable for nursery crops.
Where can I buy recycled tire mulch?
If you decide you want recycled tire mulch despite these issues, there are numerous manufacturers that use it in different ways. You can purchase it in a 20lb bag for smaller jobs, a roll-out rubber mulch, as recycled rubber stepping stones, or in large quantities for under playgrounds.

There are a number of advantages to recycled tire mulch, not the least of which is finding another use for old car tires. However, as important as it is to recycle, the potential health and environmental impacts remain a rather serious concern.  At this point, I’m more likely to put a recycled car tire on my foot in the form of an eco friendly shoe than I am to incorporate it into my garden.

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