Where Will All the Rubber Go?

August 3, 2012

There are some inventions, that although they serve a great purpose are a damning contributor to our environment. Off the top of my head I can name Polystyrene Foam (Styrofoam), rubber (tires), and plastic (baby diapers and trash bags) and I as I did a little more research the list, obviously, keeps going but some things are worth mentioning here: cardboard (drink holders) and gum (yes the bubbly, chewing kind). These products take years to decompose and sometimes they will never go away.

I wish we could just stop producing these materials but I know that the likelihood of that is not only not probable but not practical. I mean we use these products. I’m sitting in a plastic-office chair typing on plastic keys as we speak and no one wants to go backwards to before the products were invented to live. Well okay, maybe some people do, but the majority of us, especially in the developed nations do not want to live without modern conveniences and technologies.

An example of not willingly giving up modern commodities was cemented in my mind by our recent visit to Greenfield Village of Henry Ford’s in Michigan. The village is a place of history, with the real homes, offices and machinery, etc. being on display of some of our countries greatest minds: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, etc. But what made me renew my dedication to our modernity was the soap made from animal lard that was truly one of the worst things I’ve ever smelt. I’m truly amazed that any of us were born when people used that to be clean, I’m not convinced I’d ever want to be around anyone or myself smelling like that.

And yes I’m making light of the situation but honestly, I’m amazed and truly inspired by what people are able to create, invent and produce. Walking through the birthplaces of some of the most technological advanced creations was awe-inspiring. Included, without debate, in this list of superior designs is definitely Henry Ford and his automobile.

But with the automobile came the production of rubber tires. Can there be a product to replace the rubber necessity, I hope so but I shudder to think what its cause to our health and environment will be.

Charles Marie de La Condamine is credited with the introduction of rubber in 1736 in France and it was named thus because it held an uncanny ability to ‘rub’ off smudge marks. Today it is produced both in natural and synthetic versions, the difference is the natural is derived from an organic mixture from a latex made of a milky colloid produced by some plants. Neither type decomposes in a short time frame or is that beneficial to the economy. But they are needed and tires, alone, are used in an incredible fast consumption rate.

So what do we do? We find ways to use used tires and turn it into other products. These products still won’t be more environmentally sustainable but at least they will no longer just be used tires sitting in landfills, wasting valuable space.

A couple of incredible sources that are using recycled rubber can be found in the production of children’s playgrounds and as of 1998 in sidewalks.

Playgrounds are now using rubber mats to add additional safety and they can also use rubber mulch to soften the ground or it can be used in landscapes. A company that is producing this mulch is International Mulch and another that has developed interlocking recycled rubber mats is Diamond Safety Concepts. Both companies offer a variety of technologically advanced recycled rubber products that can be used and then recycled and reused again. It is a beautiful example of cradle-to-cradle products that will slow the landfill growth speed.

Eco Flex is another company that uses rubber in a sustainable fashion. They produce bricks to build patios and small walkways. The bricks are four feet by five feet blocks that come in multiple colors: Black, brown, green, grey, redwood and terracotta.

One final example of an alternative to throwing away used goods and using them in new profound ways is shown by the company Rubber Sidewalks Inc.  Lindsay Smith opened the company in 2001, it is now a part of Terrecon. It uses discarded tires to make remolded sidewalk pavers. These pavers allow for the replacement of concrete pavers where damage has occurred and allows for the sidewalks to bend around roots and tree trunks without having to be replaced.

These are just a few examples of some the wonderful turn around use of products that is sweeping through the design and environmental industries. If we continue to rely on products that cannot decompose then we must find viable options for those products to keep them from just becoming waste.

Resources: Terrecon, International Mulch, Military Zero Waste, Ehow and Eco Flex



Jennifer Shockley

Jennifer is originally from Colorado and has recently moved back from Michigan. She is finishing up her Master’s degree in Architecture. She is currently focusing on urban planning and sustainable design and hopes to gain employment at a design firm specializing in these areas. Jennifer also has writing experience serving as an editor for her school newspaper and college magazine. Jennifer has two cats named Prada and Dior-aptly named after her shoe obsession. You can follow Jennifer on twitter @jenshock81.