Last Modified: April 1, 2024

Rubber Play Bark

How Safe Are They For Kids Play Areas?

Rubber play chippings in a playground

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist

Overview

Rubber play bark, also known as rubber bark chippings for play areas, has become a common choice for use in play areas, particularly around playground equipment, because it offers protection to children when they fall from heights. Rubber play chippings also come in colours that are attractive to kids, which can make all important 'play' more appealing, because the area looks fun.

In this article, we take a look at rubber chippings as landscape designers, from its safety advantages to its ecological compatibility, and try to uncover what makes them such a widely utilised play surface.

Recycled rubber chips for playground

Key Takeaways

  • Great safety from falls when used around play areas or equestrian surfaces.
  • Aesthetically versatile material that can be used to emulate a natural look or make an area look colourful and fun.
  • Weather resistant, reducing slipping and the instance of muddy footprints from children in wet weather.
  • Safety standards exist to ensure the safety of these products, especially when used as a safety surface.

What is Playground Rubber Bark?

Primarily made from recycled tyres, products such as playsafe rubber chippings offer an alternative to traditional play surfaces, such as bare earth, astro-turf or wooden bark chippings. Their shape somewhat resemble traditional decorative chippings, like slate chippings, but they come with different strengths and weaknesses.

Pile of old car tyres for recycling. Jpg

Pros & Cons of Rubber Chip for Playgrounds

The main advantage of using rubber chip as a playground topping is that it can provide a soft, springy layer, when laid at the minimum depth. This can result in less injuries, making play safer, by providing extra protection where kids need it most - on the ground! They are generally considered to be a low-maintenance solution, and they also come in vibrant colours to add a splash of fun! 

On the flipside, there is a lot of marketing out there touting how environmentally-friendly recycled rubber chippings are. While there seems to be some logic in the benefit of re-using old tyres (which would otherwise be landfill) in place of manufacturing rubber aggregates anew, our research suggests that just giving them an 'all-round' tick as environmentally friendly, might be a little 'generous'.

Let's dig a bit deeper to explore the benefits, as well as any areas of concern, that may arise.

Childrens play area with rubber safety mulch. Jpg

Benefits

A Soft and Bouncy Layer for Safety

The main reason rubber chippings have become popular is the soft and bouncy layer. The extra cushioning can help protect children from potentially worse injuries from a fall. This proven benefit cannot be disputed and any costs must be weighed against this safety feature.

Fun, Aesthetically Pleasing Appearance

Rubber chippings come in a range of vibrant colours, from traditional tones like brown and green to colours that lend themselves more to play, like blue, red, and purple. It is thought that bright colours have a way of enhancing the appeal of playgrounds and surfaces, by making them more exciting for children.

On the other hand, we all know that paint on entire tyres has a tendency to deteriorate or wear away as time passes. At Outdoor Aggregates, we lack the expertise to comment and remain curious about the composition of the paints and dyes colouring rubber chips.

An Eco-Friendly Recycled Product?

Rubber chips are made from recycled rubber, the product of recycling old tyres. While this not only helps reduce waste and can provide an excellent alternative for a weather-resistant decorative aggregate, there are some environmental concerns to consider. Certainly, we would not advise installing recycled rubber near to natural water courses or fish ponds, especially without getting some expert advice, first.

  • "Research at Bucknell University has found that the leachate from ground tires can kill entire aquatic communities of algae, zooplankton, snails and fish. Even at low concentrations it can cause reproductive problems and precancerous lesions. Also, marine life from seaweeds to plankton is negatively affected." [1]
  • Also, the USDA Agricultural Research Service, after over 20 years of research concludes that on the zinc factor alone, ground or chipped tire material should never be used in gardens or landscaping.

Again, we are not experts in rubber toxicology, but we want to bring you information that will empower you to make informed decisions. It's vital to weigh up the benefits against the costs in anything that involves non-natural additions to your garden.

Child playing on a slide image by jacqueline schmid from

Image by Jacqueline Schmid from Pixabay

Need to work out how much rubber bark your play area or outdoor  project needs? Try our free play bark calculator.

Durability and Longevity

Manufacturers will claim that rubber chippings are highly durable. Of course, unlike bark chippings which decompose over two or more years, rubber is very slow to degrade and generally weather-resistant, which makes the protection they offer also longer lasting.

However, in general, the colours fade in sunlight. Depending on the quality of the dye or paint, and amount of UV exposure, rubber bark can fade in as little as a year. Some research has indicated that tyre coatings can exhibit signs of fading relatively soon after application. We could not find any reliable information about colour fading, either way.

Weather Resistant and Reduced Muddy Footprints

Unlike other surfaces that can become slippery or muddy, recycled rubber chippings offer consistent performance in all-weather, although they can get quite hot in full sun during summer.

Also, if you are tired of cleaning up muddy footprints and other garden debris after a rainy day, playground rubber chippings may solve this problem! Being completely weather resistant, they won't get soggy, meaning the play area chippings generally remain clean and mud-free!

Footprints in a field of mud

Rubber Playground Mulch: An Evolution of Safer Play

An integral aspect of the modern play area is the provisioning of surfaces that the best protection possible, in the event of falls. Safety play rubber chippings meet this by offering significant cushioning upon impact, minimizing the potential for injuries.

Meeting Critical Fall Height Standards

It's always important to consider the critical fall height when setting up play equipment. With a critical fall height of up to 6 feet, or approximately 180cm, a surface laid with rubber mulch will ensure that children can play with less risk of severe injury. Rubber chippings are one of the safest play surfaces available.

Image by manseok kim from pixabay

Image by manseok Kim from Pixabay

Safety and Maintenance

Ensuring Children Wear Suitable Footwear

Even with the best play surfaces required to be wire free, you should always ensure children wear suitable footwear. Footwear with pointed heels, like stilettos or football boots, are not suitable and can shorten the lifespan of the surface.

PlaySafe Rubber Chippings and Safety Standards (BS EN 1177)

PlaySafe rubber chippings are an example of a popular product which meet the BS EN 1177 standards, ensuring their suitability for playground rubber chippings. This also means that they are tyre wire free. Like all things of paramount importance, always opt for quality products that meet safety standards.

Completely Maintenance-Free Advantage

Rubber chippings are basically completely maintenance-free, especially when laid on top of rebound landscape fabric. No more raking or topping up, just the occasional removal of debris or litter.

Installing rubber bark in an outdoor play area

Alternative Options: Rubber vs. Others

While rubber chips offers numerous advantages, there are other play surfaces to consider. Alternatives to rubber chippings include sand, pea gravel, wood chips, synthetic grass, and poured-in-place resin.

Each material offers its own set of advantages and considerations, making the choice dependent on specific requirements, budget, and desired aesthetics. However, rubber chippings are a stand out due to its safety, first and foremost.

Purchasing Rubber Chippings

Delivery Date and Bulk Bags Consideration

When ordering rubber bark, always look for bulk bags and check the delivery date is available, for hassle-free transportation and installation at the best prices. Loose fill products, like rubber mulch for playground flooring, or using rubber bark, also provide flexibility in setting up the play area. They can be easily spread to ensure sufficient depth and provide the optimal level of safety.

If you are considering the installation of recycled rubber chippings in your children's play areas, be sure to find out more about the way rubber bark play areas should be designed and built, before leaping in!

Bulk bag delivery on a pallet. Jpg

Summary

In conclusion, rubber bark seems to be a popular choice due to its combination of safety, durability, and aesthetics. For children's play areas, it promises to reduce the risk of injuries and its low-maintenance, meaning you can spend less time in the emergency room and on upkeep. Add to this the vibrant colour options which can transform an area from fun to magical. At the same time, as we have discussed, there are also environmental concerns to weigh up, particularly if you have fish in the vicinity.

Child sitting in a ribber play bark garden commercial photography by studioroost. Jpg

Commercial photography by StudioRoost

There are many types of chippings available as an alternative for your project. Check out them out!

FAQs

Is rubber bark safe?

If the rubber chips meet standards like BS EN 1177, rubber play bark is designed for optimal child safety.

What is an alternative to bark in play areas?

Rubber chippings are a great alternative, offering durability and safety.

What is the alternative to bark chippings for a play area?

Rubber bark or chippings are the top alternatives due to their many benefits.

[1] RUBBER MULCH -Beware: Report from a company called "natures way resources".

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.