New Life for Scrap Tires
As more and more innovative uses for recycled rubber are found, millions of old tires are being saved from an eternity in a landfill. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's website, 290 million scrap tires have been deposited in U.S. landfills. Since tires are made of steel, polyester and rubber, there they sit, never decomposing. In 2003, the EPA turned its attention to finding alternative uses and markets for those tires. Today, scrap tires have become a hot commodity used to make fuel, asphalt and mulch.
Rubber mulch has found its niche as a soft, alternative surface for playgrounds, horse-riding rings, and other areas in need of permanent cushioning. Rubber mulch is a one-time investment that never needs to be replaced except for cosmetic reasons. Rubber mulch provides a bouncy surface, and today's rubber mulch is better screened to remove remnants of the steel belts.
How Mulch is Made
In 2009 the EPA estimates that 14 percent of all scrap tires are used to make mulch. The process is a simple one---first, the tires are cleaned thoroughly, then chopped or shredded for mulch. After they are shredded, powerful magnets are passed over the material multiple times to pull out the radial belts and polyester-steel fiber layers. Some mulches then are colored for aesthetic reasons. Most mulches are made by local suppliers to keep costs down, and, while there are no government standards, most companies use the same manufacturing process.
Gardening with Mulch
Gardening with rubber mulch is still relatively new. Most gardeners use mulch for three reasons: weed control, a polished look and to add nutrients to the soil. Wood mulches break down, adding good things to your soil, but must be replaced every year or so. Although it does not add nutrients to the soil, rubber mulch never breaks down and never needs replacing, so some gardeners prefer it. Rubber mulch for the garden is shredded to look like wood and can be tinted brown and red shades.