Rubber soul Featured

5:55am EDT August 30, 2002

There's really nothing good about a huge landfill of used tires. Besides being unattractive, pollutant-leeching brownfield sites, landfills have been accused of being the breeding grounds for West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes.

The majority of discarded tires in the United States become a fuel expedient, which means burning rubber with coal as an accelerant that pollutes the air. But recently, some innovative companies have found new and less toxic ways to use old tires.

GroundScape Technologies is one of those. The business uses discarded tires to create landscaping and safety substances. It was the innovative idea of the four original partners, including Eric Senders, the company's COO.

"From our perspective, there were a lot of positives," says Senders, "taking a problem and turning it into a good, safe product."

But it wasn't as easy as just coming up with a good idea for old tires.

"No one has been able to successfully and permanently color vulcanized rubber," he says. "Many big companies have tried and not been successful."

Enter Gerald Coffey, an ex-BP scientist whom Senders and his co-founders met at a tradeshow.

"He was really antsy to do something after BP had been bought out ... He has a Ph.D. from Purdue, 41 patents, he's in the Inventor's Hall of Fame," say Senders.

They invited Coffey to the office and were bowled over, says Senders.

"He comes to the office and starts drawing molecular chains on a whiteboard," he says.

A little over a year later, and with a much less high-tech lab than the one at BP, Coffey came up with a new rubber-based substance that was durable but forgiving and could be manufactured in a number of colors.

So far, the main focus of the company's new technology is on ground surfaces for school, municipal and home playgrounds.

"We are creating a landscape border that is lightweight and safe and that meets a heavy impact criteria," Senders says.

According to Senders, the last survey of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that 92 percent of playgrounds are not safe. That gave gave the group the idea to go after that market.

"It was really a decision borne out of economics," says Senders. "The playground safety industry is much easier to penetrate because there is an immediate need for it."

The company has seen impressive growth even in the last two difficult years.

"While no business is recession-proof, I think that safety is always an issue," says Senders. "A big growth area in construction is the building of new schools." How to reach: GroundScape Technologies, (216) 749-7575 or