• Ask the Grinder Guy: Hey GrinderGuy, how do I make Playground Mulch?

    For some reason, I have been asked this question three or four times the past month or two, so there must be more building going on or more Playgrounds looking for materials.

    Being able to expand your material offerings diversifies your business. Adding a playground material to your natural mulch, colored mulch and soil lines assists with this. There are a whole lot of properties considered “Recreational Areas”, but offering material for these facilities is not like selling mulch for someone’s home landscape beds.

    Playground material is usually a specified, certified product, assigned by an Architect in the building plans. These materials must be tested and approved as certified products. Not doing so and using normal every day mulch or wood chips can cause great financial harm to a Company.

    I am not an expert — but there are Testing Labs that are experts. They can test your materials and tell you if you meet the specifications or not, and what needs to happen for your material to meet specifications. These are the specifications that I do know:

    • Free of Debris: obviously metal and any foreign or inert matter cannot be in the product. If you accept pallet or scrap lumber material, separate virgin never used clean scrap lumber or clean whole trees and logs from other debris and use this material for your Playground product.
    • Product Size and Compaction: typically material will be about ¾ – one inch +/- and limited in fines. Usually the material is screened to remove the fines, about ¼ inch or less. By doing so, this will reduce the likelihood of any compaction. The fines are what fill the airspace in between the larger mulch pieces and create compaction of the material. Compaction equals head injuries for the children on the playground.
    • Wheelchair Accessible: the material must be sufficient as to pass a wheelchair over top of it.

    I did some searching on the web and it looks like at least the following three American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) standards must be met for certified Engineered Wood Fiber, but there may be more than just three. You will need to get the exact description of these standards from the www.astm.org for Engineered Wood Fiber, or something similar to that description:

    • F1292 for Impact
    • F2075 for Foreign Debris
    • F1951 for Wheelchair Access

    There are many testing labs around the country that can assist you. Use them and save yourself the trip to the courthouse. While the certification does cost a few dollars, it is probably not as much as your attorney’s hourly rate.

    In addition, with the certification, you receive a much better price per yard for your material, which is what you are looking for anyway. Why? It is because there is less competition with this certified product than there is with regular mulch. other companies do not spend the money to certify their product and may not even know about the certification process.

    How do you market your new material? Be aware of any schools, parks or any recreational areas being constructed in your area and see if there is material specified for these play surfaces and make sure they are not using just any material, especially for small children areas. Make the local contractors aware of your certified product and the benefits of using it. Also, let your neighborhood building commissions or builders and architect groups know about your materials. They may not know about certified product themselves or what they are for. If it is specified in the building plans, then every supplier must use the same standard for the materials and the builders and architects are safe from any legal issues down the road.

    Obviously, if you wouldn’t want your children or grandchildren playing on the materials, don’t use it. If your community or business area is putting in a playground or such, make sure they know that not just any material will make it safe for children.

    We survived being children, but I don’t think there were as many “Legal Eagles” back then?!

    Questions?     Dave Whitelaw, The GrinderGuy grinderguy@askthegrinderguy.com .

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