Here’s Why You Should Never Use Tires as Planters

Updated: Jul. 23, 2023

Think twice before using old tire as planters. Discover the hidden dangers and explore sustainable, cost-effective alternatives for your garden.

For many garden enthusiasts and environmentalists, the concept of upcycling old tires into beautiful, rustic planters might seem like a perfect blend of creativity and sustainability.

When I first stumbled on this idea a couple of decades ago, it seemed brilliant on the surface. It’s cheap, easy and gives a second life to items that would otherwise end up in a landfill. I was ready to clean, paint and plant up as many old tires as I could get my hands on. But with further research, I quickly changed my mind.

A Case Against Tire Planters: Unmasking the Green Disguise

The idea of tire planters is indeed rooted in good intentions. They offer a simple solution to the global waste problem by providing an alternative use for discarded tires. Yet, most people don’t realize tires are not made for gardening or, frankly, any form of prolonged environmental exposure.

Tires are made from a complex mix of natural and synthetic rubbers. Then there’s the vulcanization process, which involves sulfur, carbon black and potentially hazardous compounds like heavy metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

Over time, these compounds can leach into the soil, posing a risk to plant health and the broader environment. They also release volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can cause a variety of significant health problems.

Potential Problems with Tire Planters: The Silent Threats

Tire planters introduce several risks gardeners should be aware of:

Soil and plant health

Harmful compounds released by degrading tires affects the nutrient balance of the soil. They also potentially inhibit the growth of plants, and may even kill them.

Human health

Tires endanger humans because of their heavy chemical makeup, and the way those chemicals are released as the tire degrades.

A study by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (CIWMB, or CalRecycle) found flooring products derived from recycled tires for outdoor use were frequently super VOC-emitters. And exposure to VOCs can cause anything from skin irritation to breathing problems and cancer.

Consuming plants that took up heavy metals or PAHs from the soil inside tire planters can pose health risks. Prolonged exposure to these substances has been linked to skin disorders, organ damage and cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported research that shows increased incidences of stomach, lung, liver, bladder and skin cancers with exposure to PAHs in animals. And heavy metal buildup in humans can cause renal problems, cancer and significant disruption to other biological symptoms.

Environmental impact

Besides the potential for soil contamination, tire degradation contributes to microplastic pollution. Tiny particles of tire rubber can be washed away by rain, eventually ending up in waterways and contributing to the growing problem of plastic pollution in our oceans.

There is such significant concern over this issue, as well as the contaminants released alongside the microplastics, that both reclaimed rubber and rubber crumb are banned from use in artificial sports field surfaces in some parts of the European Union.

What To Do if You Have a Tire Planter

If you’re already using tires as planters, it’s important not to panic. While the risks are real, they are also relatively slow-acting. However, it’s a good idea to transition away from tire planters.

When disposing of old tire planters, remember that they should not be burned or dumped in a regular landfill. Instead, look for a local recycling center that accepts old tires. They have the proper facilities to recycle or dispose of tires in a manner that minimizes environmental impact.

Greener Tire Planter Alternatives

There are still plenty of affordable and environmentally friendly alternatives to tire planters.

Wooden planters

Wooden planters are sustainable and aesthetically pleasing. If you’re growing fruit and vegetables, be sure to use untreated or naturally treated wood.

Terracotta pots

These are made from natural clay, making them an environmentally friendly option. And they’re porous, which is great for plant health.

Repurposed containers

Just about any large container can be turned into a planter. Old buckets, barrels and even kitchen pots can be given a new lease on life in the garden.

Compostable planters

Today you can find planters made from compostable materials like coir or cow manure. Great for seedlings, these can be planted into the ground, where they will decompose and add nutrients to the soil.


Hugelkultur is a fantastic sustainable gardening technique that requires no bed edging or container. Instead, take any wood that hasn’t been treated with chemicals, compost, leaves and grass clippings. Pile it all up and lay soil on top.

Beneath the soil, the organic matter slowly starts to break down. This provides heat to extend the growing season and a constant, long-term supply of nutrients and moisture.