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If you're doing some landscaping, you may be considering your options for mulching your garden beds. Mulch helps conserve soil moisture, stabilize soil temperature, increase the soil's health, and reduce weed growth and erosion. It also contributes to the aesthetic appeal of your garden.
Mulch is often made from wood or other organic material. These materials often include wood chips as a byproduct of wood processing, recycled from reclaimed wood or bark – but mulch can also stem from repurposed rubber. Rubber from recycled tires is used to make everything from mats to playground surfaces and mulch for your flower gardens.
The Tire Recycling Atlantic Canada Corporation (TRACC) in New Brunswick, Canada, started recycling tires in 1996 and has continually diversified and modernized. You or your kids have probably used or stepped on their mats or playground surfaces at some time. They now also produce durable rubber landscaping mulch in three colors – black, cedar, or brown.
How does recycled rubber mulch compare with wood mulch for sustainability? We'll examine some of the features of these landscaping options below.
Recycled rubber mulch is made from a repurposed waste product (tires), saving on disposal impacts.
Recycled rubber mulch is made from ground-up new, defective, or used tires and waste tire buffings that would otherwise end up in landfills. During the manufacturing process, the tires are cleaned, and metal wires remove and then shredded into various sizes depending on their intended use.
Recycle rubber mulch may contain metal strands missed during the manufacturing processing. Check with the manufacturer to see if their production method assures the removal of metal. To be safe, wear protective gloves and knee pads when applying rubber mulch.
Recycled rubber mulch can contain zinc but is free of most diseases caused by pathogens. High zinc levels can inhibit plant growth, but rubber mulch can benefit and act as a zinc fertilizer for plants in zinc-deficient soils.
Recycled rubber mulch can be difficult to transport as it is heavier than wood mulch. If possible, find a local manufacturer or supplier to help minimize the transport distance. The weight of recycled rubber mulch offers better durability and longevity when faced with heavy rain and strong winds compared to wood mulch.
Recycled rubber mulch costs roughly $8 to $14 per cubic foot, depending on the grade and quantity purchased. While natural wood mulch costs $2 to $3 per cubic foot, wood mulch has a shorter lifespan and needs to be replaced every two years.
Recycled rubber mulch lasts much longer than wood mulch. Most manufacturers state it recycled rubber mulch will last for ten years, if not longer. Most dyes used during the rubber mulch manufacturing process will not fade or deteriorate a quickly as wood mulch.
The Environmental Protection Agency nor Consumer Product Safety Commission acknowledges that crumb is safe, and both have stated more studies are needed. However, both organizations recommend and promote the use of rubber mulch. Rubber mulches can leach several plasticizers and accelerators used during tire manufacturing into the soil. Therefore, it's essential to select products that have been tested for leaching and do not present a risk to people or the planet.
No research has indicated that recycled rubber mulch causes cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that while there may be harmful chemicals present, exposure is not associated with adverse health effects on humans.
Different mulches vary, so ask your supplier where their materials come from and how their product is made. For example, recycled wood mulch should exclude all treated lumber (arsenic and creosote content), and recycled rubber should exclude all metals.
Recycled rubber mulch tends to cost more up-front but lasts longer, so it is usually the option with the lower long-term cost. Check the prices of your suppliers.
Both wood chip mulch and recycled rubber mulch are made from the byproducts of processing. Both can be considered sustainable products because they do not take additional material resources from the earth. So, which type of product is right for your next landscaping project? There are a few critical decisions you need to answer before making a buying decision. Do you prefer a long-lasting product that won't need to be changed every few years? Do you choose a product that will naturally return to the earth? What do they look like when the landscaping job is complete? One of the photos on this page is cedar bark mulch, and the others are rubber. Can you tell which is which?