Scrap tires find their way into alternative sidewalks

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 to concrete.

“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 consumption.”

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 time.

“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.”