I recently read an article on FoxNews.com titled “How Green Is Recycled Plastic Lumber?” that debated the planetary friendliness of recycled plastic chunks made to look like wood. To all you high-end custom woodworkers that read our blogs, you can probably stop reading now unless you’re fascinated by the concept. I doubt you’ll be using this kind of material for clients unless you build based on durability instead of looks.
On the other hand, for large manufacturers it seems that this stuff could be a good fit for outdoor applications such as park benches, playgrounds, outdoor furniture and marine applications. The recycled material is often made from reused plastic milk and juice jugs and is described as vandal-proof because it’s easy to sand away paint and carvings. It also holds up better under the elements than wood, and supposedly can be shaped with the same tools woodworkers currently use.
This wood-hued plastic is green because it’s recycled, right? Well according to the article it’s tough to tell if using the real thing or the substitute is better for the planet. It takes much more energy to create these building materials than using old-fashioned wood. If the plastic lasts a lot longer than its wood counterpart, however, it could cancel out the extra energy required to produce the synthetic product while saving valuable landfill space.
This isn’t the only issue with the material. According to those interviewed in the article, virgin plastic is needed to manufacture some products, and increases in plastics demand, even if only for recycled goods, tend to boost plastic production worldwide. Also, regardless, of the benefits of using this material, wood will continue to be a renewable resource that stores carbon in finished products.
This kind of conundrum seems relatively common when it comes to getting green. Some decisions, such as optimizing your dust collection system to use less power obviously help the planet. But what about buying a more energy efficient van to take your installers to job sites? Will the energy saved on gas exceed the energy required to manufacture the new van? (If you're interested in questions like these, there is a fascinating section at Slate.com called "The Green Lantern" that answers questions from readers).
Has your business experienced an environmental quandary similar to the recycled plastic wood? How did you figure out which option was the greenest?
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.