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Environmentally Safe Playground Equipment

written by: AngelaC•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 2/14/2010

Spending a sunny afternoon at the park or in your backyard is a favorite family activity. Choosing to use environmentally safe playground equipment is an important decision that ensures your children are spending their playtime on safe, healthy, and eco-friendly playground structures.

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    Older playground equipment can be hazardous, not only to your child, but to the environment as well. These structures were generally made with chemically preserved wood, plastics containing unsafe PVC’s and no recycled materials. Environmentally safe playground equipment made today uses recycled materials containing no dangerous chemicals, and is safer for children and the environment. When choosing playground equipment, there are three main areas you need to evaluate; wood structures, plastic structures and surface material.

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    Wood

    Many playgrounds are built using wood structures. In the past, the wood used was preserved using Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA), a chemical preservative that has been determined to not be safe for children . As of 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), prohibited using CCA to preserve wood for playground equipment. When choosing environmentally safe wood, look for products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. SFI certified wood measures up to specific standards and helps protect the environment by ensuring that five trees are planted for each one harvested, thereby sustaining and promoting forest growth. North American cedar and redwood are two types of wood that are available from SFI Certified lumber mills. Environmentally safe conditioned wood also lasts up to 5 times longer than unconditioned wood and uses less of our natural resources.

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    Plastic

    Plastic playground structures are colorful, versatile, recyclable, and can even be made to look like wood. In addition, these plastic structures can be recycled again. When evaluating plastics, it is important to avoid all items made with PVC (polyvinyl chloride). PVC is harmful to your health and if burned, it leaves a residue of toxic PCB’s and carcinogenic dioxin on the equipment. Instead, look for plastics that are made from 100% recycled structural plastic (RSP) or from 100% recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE). Choosing playground equipment made from recycled milk containers is another safe and eco-friendly option. One recycled playground structure can use from 6,000 milk containers for a small structure to around 60,000 for a large structure. Recycled plastic contains 25% to 100% recycled materials and can be used in place of wood and metal materials on playgrounds.

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    Surface

    Choosing the surface for your playground may be one of the most important decisions in keeping your children safe. It has been estimated that up to 90% of playground structures have inadequate safety surfaces. Fortunately there are many products to choose from that are environmentally friendly and will protect your children.

    Non-toxic, crushed wood fiber is one of the most common and most economical surface choices. However, it will require more maintenance. Rubber mulch is another eco-friendly choice. It is made from 100% clean, ground, recycled rubber tires, cushions falls and minimizes dangerous playground impacts. Shredded rubber can be used as a loose-fill surface or bonded into a seamless surface that is coated with an environmentally friendly sealant. Many home playgrounds are typically surfaced with grass or sand, and although environmentally friendly, keep in mind that it does not generally provide adequate cushioning for larger playground sets. Whatever you choose, the decision to use environmentally safe playground equipment is a great way to keep your children happy and healthy.

    Photo Credit: Flickr - kimnovax