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Swinging into Sustainability

Rubberecycle Mulch
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These days, conscientious parents work hard to set a good green example for their children: we participate in curbside recycling programs, purchase nontoxic household cleaners, turn off the tap while brushing to conserve water, and encourage walking over driving when covering short distances.

So why should we let our efforts fall flat when it comes to our kids’ favorite outdoor retreats? With plenty of options on the market, backyard playsets provide the perfect platform for highlighting eco-friendly habits. Swing below for tips on going green with your little ones’ outdoor swing sets, from choosing Earth-friendly building materials and finishes to opting for chemical-free lawn care.

With just a few smart selections and creative solutions, your children can enjoy a safe and sustainable sanctuary that celebrates the great outdoors.

Always Underfoot

Groundcover: There are a couple of top choices for what goes below your child’s swing set. Natural materials such as leaves, compost, and bark offer an eco-friendly floor, but also break down quickly and harbor hoards of insects. If you want an organic base for your babes, turn instead to wood chips from downed or pruned trees; a deep bed of soft wood mulch from pine, fir, or cedar creates a prime play pad. (Be sure to stay clear of mulch treated with weed preventer or dyes, as these often contain chemical additives that can be harmful if accidentally ingested.)

For a low-maintenance alternative to traditional groundcovers, try rubber mulch made from recycled tires. Green gurus like that this long-lasting layer keeps old tires from landing in landfills, and parents prefer it for its resistance to fungus and insects, as well as its cushiony composition when little ones take a tumble. Bonus? Neighborhood wildlife won’t mistake your playset for a litter box.

Lawn care: Since children’s play often goes beyond the boundaries of their swing sets, you’ll want to extend your environmentally friendly endeavors too. When maintaining the grass, try to steer clear of pesticides and fertilizers that can expose your kids to unwanted chemicals. Rather, turn to green lawn care options such as neem oil and pyrethrin for pest control and compost for fertilizer.

Tire swing with flag, Presidents Day (Go Mr. President OBAMA, sir!), winter, San Mateo, California, USA
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Nature Made

Swing set materials: For an eco-friendly (and aesthetically pleasing) playset frame, hardwoods harvested from sustainable forests are preferred over plastic or metal. Just be sure to look for units manufactured by companies that have committed to sustainable practices, such as Kid’s Creations, Woodplay, PlayStar, and Cedarworks. I recommend natural cedar, redwood, and pine sets, which are durable and stand up to insects and fungus. You’ll want to avoid swing sets constructed of woods that may have been treated with toxic chemicals that are potentially harmful.

Paint: While many parents elect to leave their wooden swing sets unfinished, some utilize paint and stain to help integrate the play structure with the home or to add a bit of pizzazz to their kids’ spaces. If you do go this route, you’ll want to use a low- or no-VOC paint or stain, which releases little to no harmful chemicals into the air (volatile organic compounds can seep out for several years after application), that’s specifically made for exterior applications.

Try Again

Recycled goods: For a custom look that’s easy on the wallet and the Earth, think thrifty. By incorporating recycled goods into your children’s play area, you can extend their outdoor enjoyment beyond the basic prefab structure.

Hang a recycled tire swing from a sturdy tree branch, or turn painted tires into playful planters and allow the kids to create their own gardens. Craft a balance beam, picnic table, or sandbox frame using reclaimed timber. Or cut the legs off an old wooden chair and convert it into a funky swing. You can also take the “reuse” concept one step further and adopt a pre-owned swing set rather than purchasing brand new.

Have you found even more ways to go green with your outdoor play spaces? Share your ideas!

Jay Harris is a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs and a writer for the Home Depot website. Jay’s interests in outdoor living include providing swing set and playset advice to parents.

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