A few examples of more sustainable playground elements include recycled tires in safety surfacing, recycled plastic benches and playground equipment recycling programs. Another common practice in recent years has been replacing asphalt surfaces with grass and natural surroundings.
"There are plenty of new opportunities to transform decaying asphalt playgrounds or vacant lots into natural play areas," Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” wrote in a 2007 New York Times opinion article. "Researchers at the University of Illinois, exploring people’s relationship to nature, have discovered that green outdoor spaces relieve the symptoms of attention deficit disorders, improve the quality of interaction between children and adults and, in urban play areas, reduce crime."
One of the first schools to move the green playground concept into actuality was the Tule Elk Park Child Development Center, according to an article in Edutopia, the Internet publishing arm of The George Lucas Educational Foundation.
"This sixty-year-old San Francisco school in the city's Marina District went green in the early 1990s, with 20,000 square feet of blacktop removed and replaced by an educational Eden complete with native plantings, shady rest areas, and a nature preserve for the three Bs: birds, butterflies, and bugs," the Edutopia article reports.
However, Edutopia cautions that "the Tule Elk outdoor redo cost a half-million dollars more than it did a decade ago, far beyond the means of most public schools today."
A section of the article titled "follow the money trail" observes how Sherman Elementary School, also in San Francisco, obtained its green playground.
"Sherman parents stretched available dollars by doing their own site preparation, mulching, grading, paving, and laying down a permeable cover," the Edutopia article states. "Even the project's architect, Jeff Miller, besides providing a spectacular landscape plan, donated his own sweat equity by running a Bobcat grader during Sherman's green-schoolyard weekends."
Another important aspect of eco-friendly play equipment is the minimization of toxic substances used in manufacturing that can obviously pose a danger to kids who frequent a particular playground.
"Before 2003, nearly all of the wood used for playground equipment was treated with chromium copper arsenate (CCA) to ensure weather resistance," according to 1-800-Recycling.com. "The arsenic in the finish leached into the soil and was even present in the children who played on this equipment. Eco-friendly playgrounds do a double-duty job of protecting children and the environment from harmful materials like CCA."