Rooftop supports are typically fabricated from plastic, recycled rubber, and wood. These materials all have their own benefits in terms of rooftop supports, but one material stands miles ahead in terms of environmental consciousness. Recycled rubber- it’s in the name! But what does this really mean? How does recycled rubber compare to wood and plastic? Let us find out!
Candy wrappers, straws, bottles, and cups, plastic shopping bags, plastic rooftop supports. These are a few products that are manufactured that are single-use plastics. Plastics are constructed primarily from fossil-fuel-based chemicals (petrochemicals). The popularity of plastics skyrocketed in the 1970’s when companies began to replace paper/ cardboard and glass packaging with the more durable and lighter-weight plastic material.
Since the 1950’s, 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced and it is believed that over half of that total has been produced in the last 15 years. The rise of this alarming statistic summarizes our commitment to throwaway culture. We have become a society that prioritizes convenience over durability which has also blinded us to the long-term environmental impacts that this approach causes.
Globally, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased each minute. Annually, 3 trillion plastic shopping bags are used and disposed of. The global output of plastic waste rose more in the decade of the early 2000s than in the 40 years prior. Today, we produce roughly 300 million pounds of plastic waste each year, which is nearly the weight equivalent of the entire human population.
So where does this waste end up?
Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced has been recycled, 12% has been incinerated, and the remaining 79% has accumulated in landfills, dumps, and into nature. 8 million tonnes of garbage end up in our oceans, annually. 10 of the major rivers in the eastern hemisphere (Nile, Niger, Indus, Ganges, Amur, Hai He, Huang He, Chang Jiang, Zhujiang, Mekong) carry more than 90% of the plastic waste that ends up in the oceans.
The characteristics of plastic that have made it such a useful, durable, and resistant material have also caused it to become such a danger to the environment. Most plastics can not be broken down completely by nature, which causes small pieces of plastic to remain in our ecosystems, being consumed by fish and animals and in-turn, joining our food cycle. If trends continue in this way, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050.
When tires are left to sit and rot, the environmental impact of the breakdown of rubber causes comparable concern and risks to the environment to that of plastic. The breakdown of the rubber will generate negative impacts on the environment in terms of air, soil, and water pollution.
Tires are prone to leaching heavy metals and chemicals while disintegrating. These heavy metals and chemicals can quickly leach into the soil beneath them, contaminating the soil and on a larger scale, impacting groundwater quality. If the tires are left sitting near lakes, rivers, or other waterways, the potentially carcinogenic and mutagenic properties can impact biological beings that use the water source in consumption.
Recycling rubber has converted a major waste stream of rubber into new products. More than 90% of tires that would have historically been sent to landfills or illegally left in natural ecosystems are now recycled. Recycling tires drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the reduction of energy consumption when creating new rubber.
In recycling four tires, we avoid over 320 pounds of C02 being created, which is equivalent to 18 gallons of gasoline. Using recycled rubber in molded products creates a smaller carbon footprint by a factor of up to 20, as compared to using virgin plastics.
In the rooftop support industry, wood has become an ancient technology. When comparing the environmental concerns and effects of single-use plastics, recycled rubber, and wood in this industry, the replacement of wooden supports is where the concern comes into play.
Creosote was used for over a century as an industrial preservative that proved to be extremely effective in protecting wood from deterioration and decay caused by fungi and insects. As a distillate of coal tar, over 150 chemical compounds have been identified in creosote, which obviously leads to necessary concern when disposing of wood treated by creosote.
Much like the heavy metals and chemicals that leach from tires, creosote also leaches into the environment. Creosote can leach into water and soil and further into groundwater. Once creosote enters groundwater, it can take many years for it to be broken down. The toxic chemicals from creosote can also enter the air and build up in plants. Shellfish, snails, oysters, and other filter-feeding organisms can also be put at risk of internal toxin build-up from exposure to creosote.
Due to the environmental and health concerns of creosote, Canada banned the use of creosote in 2003, while the U.S followed suit in 2005. Exposure to creosote can cause symptoms including skin irritation, eye irritation, respiratory issues, and cancer in long-term exposure scenarios. When disposing of creosote-treated wood, follow your local bylaws, and wear proper personal protective equipment to protect yourself from potential exposure.
In today’s age of environmental-focused approaches and explorations into replacing single-use plastics and safely removing dangerous chemicals from everyday use items, the rooftop support industry has jumped on board. Companies such as Clearline Technologies and their C-Port line have prioritized the environment and made waves in their respective industry for their competitors to follow suit.
Even in today’s environmentally focused climate, 91% of plastic waste is not recycled. This staggering statistic goes to show that we as a society have a long way to go in terms of reducing our plastic waste collectively. The best way to limit our plastic waste is to limit our plastic use and purchasing.
If you are interested in updating or replacing your rooftop support system with an environmentally friendly and focused option, check out our recycled rubber product line here!