Over 10 years ago I wrote a column about Rubbersidewalks, a new product made from recycled rubber tires. They are an interlocking sidewalk paving system designed to save trees by helping ameliorate the problems that arise when roots of street trees heave and crack sidewalks. Too often city trees are removed because of the hazards their roots cause for pedestrians and wheeled traffic.
Rubbersidewalks were literally dreamed up by Richard Valeriano, who as a public works director in Santa Monica, Calif., often had to deal with root-and-sidewalk conflicts. After dreaming one night about flexible sidewalks made of rubber and later seeing the interlocking rubber flooring at a health club, he came up with the idea of rubber sidewalks. He had some fabricated and installed them at test sites in his city. About that same time, Lindsay Smith, a film producer, learned that some large old trees in her Gardena, Calif., neighborhood were being cut down because they had buckled nearby sidewalks.
Smith learned about Valeriano’s rubber sidewalk experiment and shared the idea with other cities. The positive feedback she received led her to form a company and begin the manufacturing and marketing of Rubbersidewalks. Since then, many more cities across the country have been giving them a try. The benefits of these rubber sidewalks includes less weight that concrete, ease of installation, reduced maintenance costs, durability, and the ability to be lifted and replaced when needed.
The sidewalks are made of 100 percent recycled waste-tire crumb, with about five old tires going into each 5-foot square paver. The crumb rubber is mixed with a urethane resin binder and colorant to provide a paver that resembles concrete. Because of the urethane binder, the pavers do not leach harmful chemicals, give off volatile organic compounds, or produce rubber dust particles. As an added benefit they reduce the sound of pedestrian and wheeled traffic, and absorb shock better, reducing injuries from falls.
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The Terrecon Company that Smith founded is also making Terrewalks, a minimal-impact paving that provides another alternative to concrete sidewalks and pathways. Instead of rubber, Terrewalks is made from 100 percent plastic waste. Terrecon says “they are the sidewalks of the future,” citing their cost, recycled content, allowance for storm water drainage and help reducing the heat island effect in cities. Terrewalks are modular interlocking paving tiles that “resemble granite, marble, and stone” and are “a beautiful and stylish pavement.”
Terrecon is not yet offering any products for home landscape use, but there are some home garden pavers made from recycled materials. Recycled Rubber Flagstone Stepping Stones are available from Gardener’s Supply Company (gardeners.com). They have an irregular shape made to resemble real flagstone pavers. While they may look like flagstone, they are lighter and easy to install. However, they are a bit pricey, costing almost $15 per “stone.”
Gardener’s Supply “Stomp Stones” are 12- by 12-inch pavers made from up to 98 percent recycled tires and plastic. These one-inch thick pavers have a sharp, beveled edge on their underside that “cuts into grass, gravel, sand or soil” for securing in place. They cost about $30 for four pavers.
A quick look online reveals that there are also a number of different types of rubber patio tiles and pavers available, as well as rubber indoor flooring. However, before buying any rubber paving, flooring or mulch, check the specifications to ensure that they safe for you, your family and the environment. Make sure they do not leach, give off volatile organic compounds or produce rubber dust particles.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.