Last Modified: April 1, 2024

Chipped Rubber

Is It 100% Safe Eco-Friendly?

Pile of black chipped rubber

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


In the world of decorative aggregates, few man-made materials have sparked as much heated garden debate as the use of rubber mulch. This unique recycled rubber surface solution comes with a blend of advantages and disadvantages, some which add indisputable safety to play surfaces, and others which challenge traditional horticultural orthodoxies.

So, join us as we attempt to objectively navigate the common applications for chipped rubber, from the variety of decorative aggregates known as rubber chippings, looking at both the widely published benefits and issues of concern.

Key Takeaways

  • Superior safety and traction, giving protection from falls, when used for surfaces such as playgrounds and equine riding.
  • Durable and low maintenance, making rubber a long-lasting material for outdoor applications.
  • Chemical residues that leach from rubber can be problematic due to the impacts on animal and plant health, and soil quality.
  • It is slow to degrade and lacks essential nutrients for replenishing soils.

What is Chipped Rubber?

Chipped vs crumb rubber. Png

The different sizes of recycled tyre rubber and their classification by nomenclature.

Chipped rubber, often also generally referred to as rubber chipping, is derived from recycled tyres. Not to be mistaken with crumb rubber, or rubber crumb, these fragmented pieces can be very durable and offer a fairly long life-span lifespan. With their flexible and rubbery texture, they're one of the best solutions for various applications, especially in areas where safety concerns are paramount, like playgrounds or equestrian arenas.

However, despite the marketing claims online touting the eco-friendly benefits of tyre chippings, with their "unbeatable durability" and "colours which last forever", there is another side to the story. We want to present an unbiased, balanced view for you, our valued readers.

Caveat Emptor - Two Sides To Every Story

It's true that a product's description is its primary representation online. It's also true that by preempting concerns buyers might have, descriptions can be very cleverly written to completely misrepresent a product or service. In fact, it is quite common, so buyer beware!

Top disadvantages of online shopping. Jpg

Did you know that a recent study found almost 62% of all the information online is unreliable, based on data they collected? While some degree of hype is expected, certain products marketing make claims that are grossly inflated or scientifically unsound, including about safety information. Deliberate tweaking, being 'economical with the truth' or outright exaggeration is also regularly used to mislead buyers.

We will cover the topic of purchasing online in a separate article, but we felt that mentioning the above issues might provide a useful backdrop for the following piece*.

Benefits of Recycled Rubber Chippings

Wet pour in a childrens play area. Jpg

Safety First

Rebound rubber chippings offer an one of the best safety solutions for children's play areas. Their shock-absorbing properties from the critical fall height, reduces the risk and severity of injuries.

Chipped rubber horse riding surfaces are also less susceptible to freezing and protect against wind loss, reducing the chance of falls, which can be fatal for horse and jockey.

However, while we don't know how significant they are, there are known health risks from exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) linked to some cancer and neurological conditions, which may be of concern for use in children's playgrounds.

Durability and Low Maintenance

Some other touted benefits are that rubber chippings will last forever, and go many years without showing signs of wear and tear. Plus, that they require minimal maintenance, which negates the need for constant upkeep.

Regarding durability, you can find information to the contrary, even on some retailers websites. Black rubber mulch may change colour within a year, especially extreme exposure to sunlight can speed up its fading. This only highlights the need to seek quality!

Eco-Friendly and Non-Toxic, or Green-Washing?

Most recycled rubber chippings vendors make the claim that by opting for by-products of rubber recycling, you actively contribute to a more sustainable environment.

Now, if you were a marketer, you could say that reusing old tires is more eco-friendly than the manufacture of new rubber chips, and be correct. However, there are many problems with this over-simplification designed to make us feel good about a decision to buy, and the research suggests it's definitely no straightforward, environmentally friendly solution.

Blown out tyre being removed from a van wheel. Jpg

Rubber Chippings May be Toxic to Plants & Aquatic Life

They contain chemical residues that can harm plants when the chemicals used in manufacturing leach into soils. Research varies, but one common chemical in recycled rubber material that potentially affects soil is zinc, which in excessive levels can be very harmful to plants.

Research from Bucknell University has also found that the leachate from ground tires can kill entire aquatic communities of algae, zooplankton, snails and fish. [2]

Coloured Rubber Chippings are Fun

Coloured rubber chippings can add a sense of fun to spaces, or can be very effectively used to ensure that a slip-resistant garden path is also much more visible in low light. There can be some great advantages to rubber surfaces, blending functionality with aesthetics.

At the same time, it is worth noting that the bright colours on rubber chips are usually a polyurethane colour coating that will rub off and fade over time. How long they last, we can't say. One online retailer advertises that they "can repair, clean and respray (the chippings) for just a fraction of the cost".

Again, as non-experts in rubber, we are just giving detailed information so that you can make an informed choice.

Popular Uses of Rubber Chippings

They are not just limited to use around playground equipment for safety, either. Chipped rubber is also popular for use in horse arenas, and shredded rubber can sometimes even find its way into landscaping projects as a mulch alternative.

Rubber Chipped Play Areas & Critical Fall Height

While they may not be suitable for kids with latex allergies, children's play areas benefit significantly from a soft and bouncy surface, when laid at a minimum depth. This can lead to a reduction in injuries, and their severity, making play safer by providing extra protection for falls. The following are general ratings for critical fall height to depth.

Critical Fall Height Protection Ratings

  • Rubber Chippings depth @ 50mm:  1.41m fall height
  • Rubber Chippings depth @ 75mm:  2.07m
  • Rubber Chippings depth @ 100mm:  >3.00m

Equestrian Riding Surfaces

Two horses standing next to each other. Jpg

A fantastic, weather-resistant alternative to sand for cold climates. When moist sand freezes solid in the cold, it creates a hard, slippery surface which is unsuitable for exercising horses. Not only do rubber chips not freeze, but they also add grip and padding to train on.

The rubber granules should ideally be graded from 14mm to 25mm, with any metallic remnants removed by magnetic separation. When using a 50mm layer to cover a 40m x 20m arena, you will require approximately 21 tonnes. They should be placed above a 100mm layer of sand as a riding surface. We have more about using rubber for horse arenas here.

Used Around the Garden: Mulch and Borders

Due to their shape and many of their other qualities, rubber chippings may be used like any other decorative aggregate, for borders, paths, play areas, you name it. There is also some info claiming they excel as a mulch by helping to regulate the soil temperature, retaining moisture and deterring pests - even over organic mulch. We take a deeper look into this, next.

Need to work out how many rubber chippings your project needs? Try our free chippings calculator.

Pros & Cons of Using Rubber Mulch in Gardens

Chipped rubber mulch in a garden

Most websites selling rubber chippings also promote them as wonderful for your plants and garden health, combating weed growth and benefiting soil health, all as it provides a consistent aesthetic topping, year round. Let's begin with the benefits.

Benefits Of Using Shredded Rubber

From Outdoor Aggregates perspective, we can't find any evidence to disagree with the following claims about using rubber chip for mulching, when installed correctly.

  • It is a long lasting mulch, because it is very slow to decay.
  • It can be effective for weed suppression, installed with a weed membrane.
  • It can be effective in retaining moisture and maintaining soil temperatures.
  • It can repel bad pests, like termites and carpenter ants, because it's inorganic.
  • It's low-maintenance, like most decorative aggregates also used as mulch.

However, there are a raft of downsides to consider when using it in place of either an organic mulch, or a decorative aggregate like slate chippings, for example.

The Downsides of Recycled Rubber Mulches

Zinc excess cycle

Cycle of excessive Zinc effect on plants.

  • It can emit the over-powering odor of a tyre shop, especially in extreme heat, caused by gas emissions from the rubber.
  • It is more expensive than organic mulches, often up to three times or more the price when you include the cost of a geotextile landscape fabric to keep it from the soil. Although, it will last many years longer, too.
  • The fact it is slow to degrade, means it lacks essential nutrients for replenishing soils.
  • There is a risk of soil contamination as it degrades from leaching zinc, cadmium, chromium, etc. The impact on gardens can be quite deadly for some plants and animals.
  • Potential serious health issues from VOCs, as mentioned earlier.
  • It may attract insects like Asian cockroaches due to the humid environment it provides.
  • Certain fungi may attach to the rubbers chemical additives, turning them white.
  • It is highly flammable and should be kept away from fire and smokers due to its quick burning, toxic nature.

Natural products like wood chips, leaf litter and bark chippings are better for mulching around shrubs and trees to increase growth, whilst stopping weeds and lawn grass. As a gardener, decomposing organic matter is no concern – it is actively sought by most gardeners - and can still look very attractive.

Therefore, even putting aside the plethora of concerns around using rubber for mulching, given that one of the main wonders of mulch is the way it enriches the soil, and soil biome, it doesn't seem to make much sense to use rubber chippings for mulching around the garden.

Are you looking for a non-biodegradable mulching solution? Slate chippings may be perfect for your project. Check out them out!

Rubber Chip vs. Wood Chippings

Chipped and shredded rubber next to each other for comparison

Bark and wood chippings are organic, so they naturally deteriorate over time. This process can take some years, and is generally very beneficial to the surrounding plants. By contrast, rubber chippings are not bio-degradable, and can last for many more years as a topping, although their appearance will fade and deteriorate long before that.

Not All Wood Chippings Are Created Equal

It should also be noted that, contrary to popular belief, not all wood chippings are made equal. It is known that some wood mulches are composed of chipped, industrial pallets, that would have been treated with some seriously, nasty chemicals. That's why it is important to investigate the source and type of the wood, before purchasing, particularly if you intend to lay them near a vegetable garden.

Ultimately, the choice boils down to preference, with both having pros and cons by usage.

Safety Standards & Environmental Impacts

Bonded chipped rubber safety surface

When buying rubber chips for a safety surface or play area, quality is crucial. Make sure the rubber chippings, or shredded rubber mulch, is a fibre free product that meets BS EN 1177 standards, to minimise the chance of finding a rubber chipping with wire in it.

Wire Free

Choosing a brand which meets the BS EN standard can minimise the amount of metal residues in rubber chippings. Brands certified as '100% wire-free' are likely to be safer than those without, especially for kids.

Although we can't verify whether it's true or not that these rubber tyre chippings contain absolutely no wire, some anecdotal evidence suggests that customers do find wire on occasion. One retailer advertises that it "complies with UK standards as a child safe product however it is not 100% wire or fibre free. We encourage children to keep their shoes on."

Going Fibre Free

Fibre-free chippings promise consistency. With them, you won't have to deal with muddy footprints or sudden decomposition. They ensure a neat, clean look, offering both practicality and aesthetics.


It may be the case that with rubber chippings upkeep is minimal, but we are now aware of their propensity to fade. There are services for restoration of the colour, which is achieved by being re-sprayed, although we can't comment on the cost or process at this stage.

Buying The Right Quantity

Measuring a bulk bag. Jpg

Buying a quality product is always cheaper in bulk orders, and by  searching for rubber chippings near me, they can delivered by the bulk bag. An efficient and punctual delivery service can ensure you stick to your timeline, especially of you have some hired help organised. Transportation can be messy. Enter bulk bags: these containers are perfect for sizeable orders of loose fill products, like rubber chippings.


This article has been a lot tougher to write than any other to date, taking a lot of extra time to research and plan. In evaluating the use of rubber chippings for landscaping, and as a mulching solution, it's crucial to consider both the positive and negative aspects.

For the positives, rubber chippings, by reducing the risk/severity of injuries, are possibly the safest option for playgrounds, without question. In a similar way, they seem to be a very good solution for use on equine surfaces. Lastly, using rubber as a mulch could be considered as durable and low maintenance, with the (somewhat questionable) benefits long-lasting, which may also make it a cost-effective choice over time.

1garden robin in leaves. Jpg

However, especially as a mulch, its potential to contaminate soil with harmful chemicals raises concerns that also tarnish its label as an environmentally-friendly, green solution. The odors and potential health risks from volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are also significant drawbacks. Furthermore, its flammability limits its application near fire-prone areas, which must be considered when planning your project.

In conclusion, the best-case scenario for deploying chipped rubber lies with its application. It can be a valuable choice for specific situations, such as playgrounds or horse training, where safety is paramount and exposure can be limited. However, in gardens or environmentally sensitive areas, organic mulches would seem to offer a more ecologically sound alternative. Always take a balanced approach and weigh the benefits against the potential drawbacks, based on the application in question.


What are rubber chippings used for?

From children's playgrounds to horse arenas and landscaping, they can be used as an attractive solution, where safety is a key concern.

Are rubber chippings safe?

The jury is out on this one. When they adhere to stringent safety standards, they can be used very effectively to provide a cushioned surface, reducing potential injuries. However, they contain toxic chemicals which can cause a multitude of issues in some cases.

How do you lay rubber chippings?

Begin with a weed membrane, spread chippings evenly, ensuring a depth suitable for its intended use.

What is the downside of rubber mulch?

There are many. Click here for the details.

What do you put under rubber chippings?

A weed membrane is ideal, preventing unwanted growth and ensuring longevity of the chippings.

Where Can I Get Free Rubber Chippings?

Generally, the only place you might get free rubber chippings is from people giving them away on sites like free-cycle or gumtree.

*Note From The Authors

Outdoor Aggregates makes no claim of any expertise in the field of rubber or toxicology. This article is an honest opinion from the POV of an experienced landscaper. It is based on some research as well, which is appended throughout the article.

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.