Recycled plastic lumber, also known as plastic wood, is something we see more and more in our outdoor environments. It’s a common construction material for outdoor furniture, playgrounds, decks, and even railway ties.
However, if you’ve ever compared a traditional wood Adirondack chair with a recycled plastic version you will notice two things: the plastic version is very heavy and it’s very expensive (usually about 3x more).
So, why is it that despite its weight and its cost, recycled plastic lumber is increasing in popularity?
It’s simple. There is a long list of advantages that in the long run, far outweigh these disadvantages.
The big ten…
- It lasts – Recycled plastic lumber lasts about 50 years; much longer than wood.
- It doesn’t deplete natural resources – Building with recycled plastic lumber takes the pressure off our forests.
- It diverts plastic from landfills – Waste plastic are recycled and incorporated into plastic wood. Be careful though as the content of recycled materials varies anywhere from a little to 100%. Many manufacturers have third party certification that guarantees the amount of recycled material used in the product, so look for that guaranteed recycled content value.
- It’s friendlier for the environment – Wood has to be treated in order to withstand the elements for outdoor uses and these chemical treatments can leach into the surrounding environment.
- It’s non-slip – Recycled plastic lumber has a rougher surface texture than most natural wood products making it a little more slip resistant. It’s also resistant to moss and algae growth, which can turn a wood staircase into a skating rink.
- It’s pest resistant – You can forget termite or carpenter ant infestations, they’re simply not interested in recycled plastic lumber.
- It’s maintenance free – Unlike wood, the high density plastic doesn’t need to be sanded, painted, or sealed every few years.
- It’s a flexible and diverse material – Recycled plastic lumber comes in any number of colors, giving it infinite diversity in its applications. It’s also easy to integrate things like anti-slip treads into the plastic lumber to provide even greater slip resistance.
- It can still be worked like lumber – Recycled plastic lumber comes in a variety of sizes just like wood lumber does. It can be drilled and routed and generally worked just like normal lumber, making it extremely versatile.
- It’s not afraid of water – Unlike wood products, recycled plastic doesn’t absorb water, making it immensely useful in marine applications, and outdoor use in general.
The many advantages of recycled plastic lumber make it a long term sustainable building material with diverse applications. As yet, however, recycled plastic lumber has not been used in structural applications largely due to its lack of rigidity. Though performance in both strength and rigidity is improved with the addition of materials such as fibreglass, these additions also decrease the recycled content of the product and raise health concerns.
That being said, the NJN News clip below shows how recycled plastic lumber is being used to replace the wood and concrete cross ties on railways that need replacing every 7 years or so. Another example of the diverse application of this material.