February 2010 Playground Equipment
By: Eric Torrey
Researching play equipment options and reviewing manufacturers' websites can be overwhelming with all the information that is presented. Even so, it is the responsibility of the playground committee to review all this information in order to make an informed purchase recommendation/decision. This can be a daunting task, and comparing all the options can lead to serious confusion.
To make it easier, select a few factors the committee considers to be important, and use these for an initial review of playground vendors and the equipment they offer. This review will narrow down prospective vendors, who can then be looked at more closely.
What are some important factors to consider when comparing play equipment vendors?
Every playground purchaser will have a unique viewpoint as to what factors are important and why. So, first, decisions must be made as to which factors the playground committee will want to consider and why.
When comparing similar-looking play structures from different vendors, why does the price vary so much?
The percentage of recycled content in most playground structures is high, so wouldn't this be one of those factors not worth using to compare vendors?
Post-consumer, recycled material is defined as "a material or finished product that has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal." An example of this would be milk jugs (made of HDPE plastic) that are recycled and made into playground structures.
The Steel Recycling Institute estimates that, on average, current steel production incorporates 25% to 30% recycled steel. Some manufacturers of metal playground equipment claim higher percentages of recycled content. These claims may be based on the use of pre-consumer materials, and other items such as "rework, regrind, or scrap generated within a process and capable of being reclaimed within the same process that generated it." While reuse of this material is good business practice, and reduces waste, it's somewhat misleading to include this material when promoting recycled content. This view is supported by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which only allows one-half of pre-consumer material in the calculation of recycled content for the determination of LEED points, and excludes rework, regrind, or scrap completely
Other than recycled content, are there other environmental factors worth considering for the sake of vendor comparison?
Phthalates are not banned from use in the manufacturing of playground equipment in the U.S. as they are in ECU member countries. While the CPSC did ban phthalates being used in toys for children, the law specifically excludes playgrounds, due to the fact that a playground does not fit within the definition of "toy." Until the U.S. passes a law to eliminate the use of this chemical in the manufacture of playground equipment, some vendors continue to use flexible PVC.
Other vendors have recently removed phthalates from the playground products or are offering a non-PVC option. And there are a number of playground equipment vendors with products that are phthalate-free, and always have been, since these vendors do not use metal stairs, decks, ramps, or bridges.
What other factors might be important to review?
By reviewing each vendor's products and comparing them to the list of important factors the committee has chosen will enable the committee to choose the playground equipment that best meets the needs of the church. It may seem like a lot of effort, but it will be worth it. And, whichever vendor you choose, the most important factor of all is the fun and happiness the playground equipment will bring to the children of your church for many years to come.
Eric Torrey is director of marketing for Safeplay Systems, www.safeplaysystems.com.