Is Recycled Rubber Playground Flooring Safe for Kids?

Recycled Rubber Tiles Are Common Materials for Kids Playground Surfaces

Playground Mats
By Julia Nass

When people think of playground safety, the first thing that usually comes to mind are the thousands of accidents that happen every year on the playground. Although this is an essential piece to consider when planning playground safety, there's more than just playtime accidents to consider. Many playgrounds have turned to using recycled rubber products as playground flooring. However, there have been many questions surrounding both the benefits and safety of recycled rubber use.

Why Use Recycled Rubber?

Environmentally, it makes sense to use products made from recycled materials, especially tires. Tire waste is an enormous, ongoing issue because of the massive quantity of tires that are discarded every year. When buried in landfills, tires can release harmful toxins into the earth and water systems. Tires are made to be weatherproof and live a long-life, so they are not biodegradable.

Manufacturing and buying products made from recycled tires are an important part of combatting tire waste. There is a small portion of all discarded tires that get turned into new recycled materials. Common recycled rubber products include rubber crumbs and rubber mulch, which are used on playgrounds and as fill for artificial turf. Alternatively, some recycled rubber gets turned into solid molded products such as mats and tiles. Environmentally, repurposing tires and their material is the safest and least-damaging solution to tire waste.

However, the question still remains: are products made of recycled rubber safe for kids to play on? Because so many playgrounds do in fact utilize recycled rubber, it is an important question to consider and understand.

Is it Safe?

There has been some public controversy over the safety of certain recycled rubber products, and it's a topic still being debated and researched. Unfortunately, it's difficult to find a resounding ''yes'' or ''no'' on this matter.

Most research has been conducted on rubber crumbs and rubber mulch. Overall, nearly every study that has been conducted have found that these substances are not in fact harmful. Rubber mulch, in particular, is promoted by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). However, many believe the research has not been adequate enough to give a definitive answer, and more studies need to take place. The truth is, there are chemicals found in tires that can be harmful to humans given enough long-term and significant exposure.

It's also important to consider that children interact with these substances differently than adults. Children are often on the ground coming into close contact with playground materials, often by way of mouth. Further, they are smaller and more at risk for substance effects. What might be deemed safe for adults might not be the same for children.

What About Recycled Rubber Playground Mats and Tiles?

Recycled rubber playground tiles and mats, however, are a bit different than rubber crumbs and mulch. Many playground tiles and mats have a sealed surface, which prevents raw and potentially harmful substances from coming into contact with children. The safety of these products can vary with the manufacturer, so it's important to inform yourself on the quality of material and the testing they do to ensure the quality.

How Does Rubber Tie Into Injury Protection?

Another key component of safety is protecting from falls, which are bound to happen on a playground. Not all recycled rubber products will protect from falls as well as other materials. If you choose the right product, however, rubber playground flooring can absolutely protect kids from serious injury. On the other hand, if recycled rubber products are poorly made, they will do little to prevent or soften the impact of falls. That is why it is important to always choose rubber playground products that meet or exceed American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and CPSC standards.

Quality rubber products will advertise a fall height rating, so you can easily choose the ones to match your playground equipment. If chosen correctly, recycled rubber products can completely increase the safety of the playground. Cushion, shock-absorption and grip make certain rubber playground tiles and mats among the safest choices for play.

Is Recycled Rubber the Right Choice For Me?

If you choose the right product, playground tiles and mats made from recycled rubber are an all-around awesome choice for playground flooring. When well made, rubber playground flooring helps create the safest possible play environment for children. Utilizing recycled rubber is also an important way to combat the issues of tire waste. They are an economical choice as well.

Unlike loose-fill products, you won't have to worry about replacing rubber mats or tiles for years to come. Maintenance is far easier with these kinds of products: all you need is a broom or garden hose to clean.

What are the Alternatives to Recycled Rubber Playground Surfaces?

Clearly, there are many pros to using well-made recycled rubber playground tiles and mats. However, you can find many of those pros in other products as well. If you feel unsure about recycled materials in rubber products, you can always choose rubber playground tiles and mats made with material that has not been recycled. Read product descriptions or check in with customer service to determine what materials are being used.

Another great option for playground flooring is perforated PVC tiles. These tiles are durable, weatherproof, slip-resistant and safe. They come in a ton of different colors, so you can create a bright, fun play area without any hassle. Installation is a super easy process. All you have to do is snap together tiles using the interlocking system. Often, these tiles have a shorter fall height rating than rubber products, so they are better suited for play areas without tall equipment.

Ultimately, it's important to put in some time researching the product that works best for you and your kids. If you're feeling hesitant about the safety of certain products, don't hesitate to ask questions of the manufacturer. Chances are, someone else has had the same concerns you have. If the product is well-tested and high-quality, companies won't have a problem showing you proof of material control, ASTM ratings and other certifications. Further, check for different warranties and guarantees, which help to demonstrate product quality.
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