Which is Safer? Rubber or Wood Mulch?

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green loose rubber mulch on playground

From city parks to playgrounds, recycled rubber tire has been an attractive alternative to wood mulch for decades. It helps keep kids safe and helps protect against falls.

However, several people have concerns about whether or not there are health risks from exposure to rubber mulch made from recycled tires. This concern is understandable! After all, we want the best for our children, and we expect the products that are supposed to help keep them safe to be non-toxic and clean.

We’ve written about the safety of recycled rubber before, but there are still questions that need answers. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention/Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are scheduled to release a report called the “Federal Research Action Plan on Recycled Tire Crumb Used on Playing Fields and Playgrounds.” It should settle the science once and for all.

Until the final peer-reviewed report comes out, we have several previous studies to fall back on. We’ve linked to a few of these at the bottom of this article. These tests (conducted by state and federal agencies and independent, third-party industry associations) show that recycled rubber poses no harm to humans, animals, or the natural environment.

The Problems with Wood Mulch

Although the research shows no significant health risks are associated with artificial mulch made from recycled rubber infill, schools and parks administrators continue to choose wood mulch over rubber even though wood mulch comes with its own problems.

Wood mulch or wood chips can help protect against falls; however, there are some downsides. Splinters, mold, and susceptibility to freezing are all factors that can hinder the performance of wood mulch. Also, some wood mulch has been treated with chemicals like toxic chromated copper arsenate (also called CCA) to make it more resistant to pests and decay.

As for cost, wood mulch is certainly cheaper than rubber mulch — at least in the beginning. Over time, however, the cost grows because it needs to be replaced as the wood decomposes and gets spread around. The groundskeeper is surely going to stay busy raking that mulch back to the areas where it provides protection!

View Rubber Mulch

Rubber Mulch

Scrap rubber manufacturers recycle around 110 million tires every year. Some of it gets a new life when it is used to make playground safety surfacing and crumb rubber mulch. The manufacturing process includes grinding and screening to remove stones, metal, fiber, and other materials from scrap tire rubber. The tires undergo an extensive sieve process to remove fibers, and powerful magnets and vacuums remove any remaining metal. This is an exacting process designed to meet rigorous ASTM  specifications. The recycled rubber mulch is continuously tested to maintain a high level of quality and trust.

No Fault Rubber Mulch, for example, does not create dust, decompose, rot, absorb water, displace, or attract insects. A similar product, No Fault Bonded Rubber Mulch, consists of 100% recycled shredded rubber mulch combined with a single component polyurethane binder. We offer specific depths to meet particular fall height requirements. It requires little maintenance and can be installed coast-to-coast.


What about toxins and carcinogenic chemicals? The California Integrated Waste Management Board has performed extensive testing, which revealed that all chemicals in recycled rubber that could be considered carcinogens occur at concentration levels far below the level of one part per million (generally considered an “acceptable” level).

Those tests were about skin exposure. What about ingestion? You can count on small kids to put everything they find into their mouths, right?

Additional studies, linked below, looked at the health effects of ingesting tire shreds and determined that it was unlikely to produce any adverse health effects in a 3-year-old child.

In Conclusion

While wood mulch continues to be a popular option for playground safety, rubber mulch made from recycled rubber has been proven to be a non-toxic alternative that may provide better fall protection and long-term value. At No Fault Surfaces, we take great pride in providing rubber products that enhance playground and park safety – products made from the clean and highest-quality non-toxic materials. Whatever safety surfacing you choose, we want to you to feel 100 percent confident that you’ve made the right decision. We can help!

No Fault offers some of the most popular recreational surfacing products on the market, and we stand behind them 100 percent! Here are a few of the flagship products we offer:

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Studies referred to in this article include the following:

California Integrated Waste Management Board

Evaluation of Health Effects of Recycled Waste Tires in Playground and Track Products

Kansas Department of Health & Environment, Bureau of Waste Management

Health and Safety Considerations Associated with the Use of Recycled Waste Tires for Playground Surfacing

Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Crumb Infill and Turf Characterization for Trace Elements and Organic Materials

National Exposure Research Laboratory Office of Research and Development U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

A Scoping-Level Field Monitoring Study of Synthetic Turf Fields and Playgrounds

Pennsylvania State University

Evaluation of Playing Surface Characteristics of Various In-Filled Systems

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection

Preliminary Assessment of the Toxicity from Exposure to Crumb Rubber

Air & Waste Management Association

Toxicological Evaluation for the Hazard Assessment of Tire Crumb for Use in Public Playgrounds

National Center for Environmental Assessment

Child-Specific Exposure Factors Handbook

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