Scrap tires find their way into alternative sidewalks
by Irwin Rapoport
Since 2005, Fountain Valley, California-based Rubbersidewalks,
Inc. has sold more than 250,000-square-feet of sidewalks
made from discarded tires and plastic recyclables via
its Rubbersidewalks and Terrewalks® products. This has
reduced the need to produce new concrete, which is considered
to be a major producer of carbon emissions.
“In 2009 we quadrupled our sales from 2005,” said Lindsay
Smith, president/CEO of Rubbersidewalks, Inc., which
is the only company in the United States that utilizes
rubber and plastics to manufacture urban-worthy sidewalks.
“We successfully introduced Terrewalks last year, and
we continue to find a strong customer base for 100 percent
waste tire Rubbersidewalks, especially in seniors’ communities
where a really safe sidewalk is desired. Programs which
target tire diversion and offer ‘green dollars’ also
help promote sales.”
The company’s goal is to see municipalities and builders
replace traditional concrete sidewalks with alternative-material
sidewalks and by doing so, use up a large portion of
the nearly 300 million tires that are discarded in the
United States annually.
Smith noted that state programs such as California’s
Tire Product Grant, which awards around $3 million annually,
has helped promote the use of alternative products made
with waste tires. Public agencies can receive up to $5
rebate for each tire diverted by their purchase of products
made with waste tires.
The company has sold non-concrete sidewalks to cities,
universities, state agencies, senior facilities, schools,
corporate campuses, and commercial developers in over
30 states, including Virginia, Georgia, Washington Colorado,
Oregon, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C. Flushing Meadows
boasts the first Rubbersidewalks installed in New York
City, and Staten Island installed over 3000 square feet
of Terrewalks last fall.
A Rubbersidewalks paver weighs 54 pounds and consists
of 4.8 tires, colorant and polyurethane resin, while
Terrewalks weigh 36 pounds and diverts 1 tire and over
30 pounds of waste plastics.
Both Rubbersidewalks and Terrewalks pavers measure 2
feet by 2.5 feet and 1.875 inches in height – allowing
for sidewalk widths of either 4 feet or 5 feet. Both
products are manufactured in New York and California,
with a third production site coming soon in Texas.
So far Terrewalks, which accounted for 40 percent of
the company’s 2009 sales, can be found on public streets
and in plazas and corporate campuses. The interlocking
paver design allows for fast and easy installation and
the next-gen product comes in a variety of colors that
do not fade. One style, TerreClassic, looks identical
“We have strong markets for both products,” said Smith.
Both products are designed to withstand extremes in terms
of hot and cold temperature and unlike concrete, are
not vulnerable to vibration and freeze/thaw damage.
“Concrete sidewalks,” said Smith, “are often not cost-effective.
You can get concrete materials for a relatively low price,
but the actual use of concrete in cities is more expensive
than people realize,” she says. “A concrete sidewalk
lasts less than 10 years near a growing tree or in freeze-thaw
and often less than 5 years. If you have trees, or a
freeze/thaw climate, concrete will crack, break and uplift,
often becoming a trip hazard.
“Our products never break,” she added. “They become a
permanent feature and because they complement the planting
of trees, allow cities to preserve and expand the urban
forest that provides shade, reduces the heat effect and
creates habitat for wildlife. While we love concrete
as a building material, let’s not use it any more than
we have to. Sidewalks are one of those things that don’t
need to be made of concrete.”
A square foot of installed Terrewalks costs $12 ($7 for
the material and $5 for the prep and installation), while
a square foot of Rubbersidewalks costs $16 ($9 for the
materials and $7 for prep and installation).
“Installing Terrewalks goes quickly and does not require
much traffic control,” said Smith. “It eliminates running
vehicles and machinery, and waiting a day to remove the
forms used with concrete. Concrete is 8 percent less
expensive than Terrewalks based on 100,000 square foot
plus contracts for concrete and maybe 6,000 square feet
of Terrewalks. Although Rubbersidewalks and Terrewalks
initially cost slightly more than concrete, ‘break even’
is reached the first time concrete does not have to be
repaired and replaced. After 18 years, our products give
a 48 percent savings.”
While Rubbersidewalks and Terrewalks are a proven alternative
green product, Smith says that many cities still want
to conduct their own pilot projects to determine the
public acceptance of the product.
“We honor small orders,” she said. “We know that after
enough exposure cities will make our non-concrete sidewalks
part of their annual maintenance program.”
This may happen even faster, considering that the United
States Environmental Protection Agency is working with
the company to produce a White Paper, which, when completed,
should help support the use of non-concrete alternatives
in pedestrian pavement.
For Smith, the idea of large urban centers and regions
being able to use locally discarded tires and plastic,
and close the recycling loop via local manufacturing
facilities is a real possibility.
Terrewalks can use a wide of variety of unsorted and
unprocessed post consumer plastics, including beverage
bottles, various polyethylenes, and all types of consumer
plastics and waste from plastic manufacturing facilities.
“We use all the material that nobody wants,” said Smith,
“and convert these materials into product. Our carbon
footprint is low because our feedstock doesn’t need to
be sorted and cleaned, which reduces energy and water
Asked what it will take to have large urban centers and
cities such as New York, Los Angeles County, Chicago
and Dallas to start using green alternatives on a massive
scale, Smith replied, “In L.A. we did the Dorothy Chandler
Music Center and we recently installed 1,400-square feet
of Terrewalks in Greg Smith’s district in Northridge,
California. We are specified in New York – where we installed
3,000-square feet in Staten Island and we already have
Rubbersidewalks in Chicago. Every city has their own
rules and regulations and we are taking them one at a
“In California non-concrete alternatives are in demand
because year-round tree growth means roots are breaking
concrete sidewalks all the time.” she added. “With state
and municipal budgets impacted by the economic downturn,
finding ways to downsize and save money is imperative.
What is good for California cities applies across the
country. Reducing sidewalk construction and replacement
costs, and helping the environment at the same time by
using closed loop waste tire/plastic-to-products is a
win-win situation for all.”