Tired of Mulching?

If your municipality is tired of spending its money replacing pine straw or wooden mulch, then tire rubber mulch may be your ticket to ride. At least that is the idea Steven Kirby had when he co-founded Rubber Mulch Etc., Hickory, N.C.

Of the 270 million scrap tires generated annually, 15 million are processed into ground rubber, or “buffings,” according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), Washington, D.C. Rubber Mulch Etc. sells tire buffings collected in mulch form from several areas in North Carolina. The rubber mulch can be used for commercial landscaping, yards and even playgrounds. The company doesn't use car tires because they contain too much steel belt and are difficult to mulch.

Kirby and his brother, Tommy Hennessee, started the company last year after their mulching product received an overwhelming response at a spring garden show in Charlotte, N.C.

“People love the idea that the rubber mulch comes from used tires and it is a recycled product,” Kirby says.

Municipalities also can use rubber mulch to cut long-term landscaping costs.

Kirby sells his product to the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT), Raleigh, N.C. “The department has a reputation of using recyclable products where it's economically feasible,” says Derek Smith, a vegetation management section engineer for the DOT. “We wanted to try the product on a small scale at our office, [and] now are contemplating using the product at our rest areas statewide.”

With approximate retail costs between $700 per ton to $800 per ton, rubber mulch costs more than wooden mulch. But rubber has a longer life expectancy. Prices vary per rubber market rates and chemical rates for colorants. Rubber Mulch Etc. uses a “secret process” to apply color onto the mulch, which has been tested and found not to fade or come off, according to the company. The mulch is available in black, “Earthtone” and “Redwood.”

Kirby claims the color has a life expectancy of 20 years.

These benefits allow homeowners to substitute rubber mulch to reduce twice-a-year applications of wooden mulch. And, Kirby says his rubber mulch will remain on an incline better than wooden mulch. Also, he explains that wooden mulch or pine straw has to be raked off to reach the dirt. Without properly removing the wooden mulch, homeowners still will have the problem of rotting wood and the accompanying insects.

Other benefits of rubber mulch, according to the Scrap Tire Management Council, Washington, D.C., are that it does not attract or retain moisture; produce toxic leachate; attract cats, dogs, rodents or insects; or rot or decay. The product also is nonflammable and nontoxic.

Rubber Mulch Etc.'s product has been “fall-rate tested” by Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., which makes it attractive for playgrounds.

“When you put [the rubber mulch] on a playground, if you [place approximately] four or five inches underneath the equipment, it will act like a mattress,” Kirby says.

Julie Morrow, principal of Sugarloaf School, Taylorsville, N.C., says her school chose rubber mulch for that reason even though it was more expensive than wood. When they installed new playground equipment, the school wanted something that would break the child's fall and didn't have to be routinely replaced.

Consequently, Kirby believes his product is on a roll. “When [people] have time off from work, they don't want to spend a lot of time mulching and doing chores.”

For more information, call Rubber Mulch Etc. toll-free at (800) 495-3688.

Misty Milioto is an Atlanta-based free-lance writer.