Recycled Plastic Lumber Has Many Advantages Over Traditional Wood

In the 1967 movie “The Graduate” Benjamin Braddock, (played by a young Dustin Hoffman ), had a number of things on his mind. Besides Mrs. Robinson, he was also a little concerned about his future. The one word of advice he received from Mr. McGuire the businessman; “plastics” has become the second most popular movie quote in American history and even caused the plastics industry to boom in the year after the movie was released. Maybe a few years later the advice could have been changed to “computers.” Well, at least according to Bill Gates, but then computers are made of plastic so you couldn’t really go wrong anyway. But there is a price to pay for all of the convenience that plastic provides: it is a petroleum-based product and unless it is recycled, it has a tendency to clog up landfills until the end of time.

Ok, so you’ve got that plastic recycling bin and you separate all of your plastic stuff from the metal, paper, and aluminum. You’re thinking about replacing that old, worn out wooden deck that sits behind your house. Ever think about rebuilding it with plastic lumber? Plastic lumber has several advantages over hardwood in addition to the fact that a lot of it is recycled. Traditional wood can warp, splinter, crack, degrade, and rot. The local termite population also might drop in and make that new deck its next gourmet meal. Then there is the added cost and trouble of maintaining a wood deck; you have to repaint and reseal it every so often. Plastic lumber has none of the above liabilities. Take a hint from the railroad industry, for example, which has recently been replacing traditional wood railroad ties that have to be replaced about every seven years with composite plastic ones.

The Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plastic Pot Recycling Program is the only program of its kind to recycle both plastic plant containers and polystyrene cell packs and trays. The program so far has saved over 400 thousand pounds of plastic from going to the landfill. The production of plastic lumber has become even more important since 2004 when the ban on Chromated Copper Arsenate treated lumber went into effect. Plastic lumber is non-porous and can’t leach any wood preservatives into the soil. And best of all, it lasts about 50 years while wood, no matter how ell you treat it, lasts considerably less.

Want to see for yourself? The Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden has a raised bed garden constructed out of the plastic material in the Experimental Garden. To see a much larger example, head out Interstate 44 west to Gray Summit and check out the 310-foot boardwalk that is constructed out of recycled plastic lumber. You can even walk across it barefoot without any fear of splinters.

Let’s face it. I don’t think that recycled plastic lumber will be used to construct fine indoor furniture anytime soon. (You might help out the environment there by purchasing furniture made from recycled logs found at the bottom of rivers and lakes.) But for outdoor use, the plastic lumber is ideal AND it helps the environment.

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