The Facts & Science on Recycled Rubber

Questions & Answers about Recycled Rubber

  1. What is recycled rubber?

Recycled rubber is rubber that has been reclaimed from scrap materials such as used tires.

Recycled rubber gives us innovative ways to reduce waste while solving important challenges – from facilitating softer playground surfaces, to reducing the chance of injuries for athletes, to building lower-impact hospital floors for nurses on their feet all day.

U.S. scrap rubber manufacturers recycle roughly 110 million tires annually – or one tire for every three people in the U.S.

  1. How is recycled rubber produced?

Recycled rubber is produced from scrap tires through a straightforward process. There are two main ways in which this happens:

Ambient shredding: uses powerful, interlocking knives to chop tires into smaller pieces.

Cryogenic process: uses liquid nitrogen to freeze them at sub-zero temperature. These cold temperatures cause the physical properties of the tire to change, and it becomes very brittle. The tire is then placed in an enclosure in which powerful hammers smash the tire apart.

The non-rubber portions of the tire are also recycled. For example, the steel beads that give the tire its shape and structure are recovered by recyclers and processed into specification grade product used by steel mills for new steel.

  1. Why should we be recycling scrap tires?

Tires are designed to be virtually indestructible under a variety of conditions, have traditionally been difficult to dispose of or recycle.

In most cases, old and worn tires were replaced with newer tires and dumped illegally in lakes, empty lots, along the sides of roads, and in nature in potentially sensitive habitats. Others were added to landfills.

Today, thanks to innovations in manufacturing, scrap tire rubber is used to make new tires, playground surfaces, equestrian mats, and rubberized asphalt—among other products.

Tire recycling is an economically sound, environmentally-friendly activity that can contribute to the reduction of a product’s overall carbon footprint by anywhere from four to 20 percent compared to virgin plastic resins.

  1. Is recycled rubber – especially the crumb rubber used in turf fields – safe?

There is no peer-reviewed scientific data that suggests recycled rubber used in synthetic turf fields pose any significant health risks to athletes. To the contrary, in fact, there are more than seventy (70) scientific studies conducted by both private and government entities that specifically say otherwise.

Unfortunately, some media reports have made very serious allegations that synthetic turf with recycled rubber infill may be the cause of serious illness in some child athletes.

The reality is that all of the scientific studies to date thus far have found no significant health risk associated with artificial (synthetic) turf with recycled rubber infill.

  1. What exactly is being made out of recycled rubber?

Recycled rubber is being used by manufacturers in a wide variety of applications today. Manufacturers prize scrap as a raw material input due in part to the cost and energy savings.

Here are a number of settings where we see recycled rubber most:

Medical: Hospital floors and surgical gloves – providing comfort and quiet for medical professionals and patients

Agriculture: Vegetation protectors and windbreaks, sheds, livestock mats, bumpers, and feeders – increasing yield and efficiency for the agricultural sector

Sports: Infill for synthetic turf fields (of which there are more than 12,000 in the U.S.), indoor and outdoor running tracks, and fitness mats – broadening sports and fitness opportunities across the country

Playground Surfaces: Mulch and mats – cushioning our children’s falls

Infrastructure: Rubberized asphalt on roadways – providing surface durability while lessening traffic noise

Home & Garden: Landscaping mulch, molded products such as railroad ties, flowerpots, garden hoses, benches, and welcome mats – creating useful everyday products

  1. How does this impact the environment?

Recycling rubber tires means that millions of scrap tires are no longer dumped in landfills, or left illegally in lakes, abandoned lots, along the side of the road and in sensitive habitats. Instead, more than 90 percent of these tires are being recycled and reused annually.

In fact, recycling saves impressive amounts of energy, which ultimately reduces greenhouse gas emissions. For example, recycling four tires reduces CO2 by about 323 pounds, which is equivalent to 18 gallons of gasoline.

Using recycled rubber in molded products, for example, creates a substantially smaller (by a factor of up to 20 times) carbon footprint as compared to using virgin plastic resins.