If you are doing some landscape design, you may be considering mulch options for your garden bed. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, stabilizes soil temperature, increases soil health, and reduces weed growth and erosion. It also helps to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the garden.

Mulch is usually made of wood or other organic materials. These materials often include wood chips as a by-product of wood processing, wood chips recovered from reclaimed wood or bark — but mulch can also be derived from recycled rubber. Rubber from recycled tires is used to make everything from MATS to mulch for playground surfaces and flower beds.

Pros of Wood Mulch?

  • Material that biodegrades and returns to the earth.
  • Low energy is consumed as it is a byproduct of wood processing.
  • Bark mulch is relatively inert and decays slowly, conserving soil nutrients.
  • Non-toxic iron oxide and carbon black dyes are typically used for color. Additional colors are often achieved through the use of vegetable-based dyes.

Cons of Wood Mulch?

  • Material biodegrades relatively quickly.
  • It needs replacement every year or two as it decomposes or washes away.
  • Wood mulch decomposition removes nitrogen nutrients from the soil.
  • It can mat down, forming a barrier against water and airflow.
  • Recycled wood mulch might contain toxic arsenic or creosote from treated lumber waste if wood sorting was insufficient.

Pros of Recycled Rubber Mulch?

Recycled rubber mulch is made from a repurposed waste product (tires), saving on disposal impacts.

  • It doesn’t absorb water
  • Inhibits fungus and mold
  • Insulates soil from heat and harsh weather
  • Maintains its look season after season
  • Resists compression, blowing, and washing away
  • Controls weed growth – weed seeds dehydrate in the mulch before reaching the soil.

Cons of Recycled Rubber Mulch?

  • It does not biodegrade.
  • It does not enrich the soil or increase soil biodiversity through decomposition.
  • A hazard if ignited (burning rubber).
  • Hard to remove once it settles into the ground; it can’t be tilled into the soil.
  • It could lead to soil contamination with metals if the tires were not processed well enough.

Is Rubber Playground Mulch Safe?

It’s a contentious question and it’s hard to get a straight answer. People who claim that rubber playground mulch is safe are selling rubber playground mulch, while people who claim it is not safe are selling wood mulch or other traditional playground mulch such as pea gravel or sand.

After extensive research, I would say that rubber playground mulch made from recycled tires is moderately safe — moderately. But it’s not as safe as traditional, natural mulch. To answer in more depth, let’s look at how it is made.

How is Rubber Playground Mulch Made?

The recycling process involves cleaning the tires and removing the steel wire from them before crushing them. The next process usually (hopefully) involves using a magnet system to “weed out” any wire fragments that are still in it. Rubber tyre mulch comes in a variety of colours, so if you are choosing a colour, the next step is to colour and dry the “mulch”.

Final Thoughts and Considerations

Rubber mulch is your best low-maintenance, “set it up, forget it” material. While it is true that many safety concerns remain, the EPA is conducting an ongoing study and has approved the material for use in children’s playground areas.

Wood mulch is still very popular and will always be. They are made from all-natural wood without any additives or chemicals, which is a huge advantage for many people. While wood mulch does not last as long as its rival, rubber mulch, they are cheap and readily available.

You can get wood chips for free (or at a great discount) if you call a number of different tree services in your area.

Another way to save money is to pick up your own materials. If you own a pickup truck and/or trailer, this is no problem. If you don’t, the delivery fee is quite reasonable. The most expensive part is paying someone to install (distribute) your newly acquired mulch.

Personally, I wouldn’t use engineered wood fiber (sometimes called playground debris) because the material only lasts 2-3 years before it breaks down and becomes a mess. While it’s true that this material doesn’t cause debris, I really don’t see it as a good choice compared to mulch in other playgrounds.

We can help you put in a complete Tire Recycling System. The basic Tire Shredder is designed to cut tires into roughly 2″x2″ inch particles for the Tire Derived Fuel (TDF) market and Rubber mulch.

Rubber mulch vs wood mulch
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