Recycled Plastic Lumber: Coming to a Park Near You

Couple sitting on recycled plastic lumber park bench

When you sit down on a park bench to read, watch kids play, or just chill, do you ever really notice what you’re sitting on? That bench could be made with recycled plastics.

Park benches, playground equipment, and even backyard decks and furniture made with recycled plastics have become increasingly popular, thanks in large part to the material’s combination of good looks, durability, and environmental benefits.

Plus a little civic-minded competition. Several local and national recycling initiatives seek to incorporate more recycled plastic lumber in the parks, schools, and playgrounds that bring communities together.

For example, Keep America Beautiful’s 2016 “Recycle-Bowl” involved nearly 1,300 schools in 47 states and the District of Columbia that competed to collect the most recyclables. The winning school was awarded a park bench made from recycled plastics.

And TerraCycle, Colgate, and ShopRite host a recycling program for schools that compete by collecting used oral care products (toothpaste tubes and caps, brushes, floss containers) for recycling. The winning school gets a new playground made from—you guessed it—materials made from previously used oral care products!

Why choose recycled plastic lumber?

The countless communities and homeowners who have embraced recycled plastic lumber have great reasons for doing so. It’s weather-resistant, virtually maintenance-free, and tough enough to last for years and years, making it a great choice for outdoor use.

Recycled plastics can be molded into just about any shape and made to replicate the look of textured wood. It’s a great solution for your backyard if you’re looking to build a beautiful deck without the maintenance, splintering, rotting, and splitting associated with traditional outdoor decking materials.

And you can top off your deck with furniture such as lounge chairs, dining tables, and swings… also made with recycled plastics.

So whether you need a sturdy picnic table to enjoy a meal, a relaxing Adirondack chair to finish a good book, or a low maintenance, splinter-free deck for the kids to play on, you can feel good about recycled plastic lumber.

How is recycled plastic lumber made?

It all starts with a very important person: you—by recycling your everyday plastics. It’s easier than ever to recycle your plastics, and recycled plastic lumber is just one of many ways your used plastics can live another life as new, useful products.

One of the largest plastic lumber makers takes used plastic bags and wraps, cleans and grinds them into granules, and then combines that with sawdust to create a composite material that is formed into lumber. The company reports using 140,000 plastic bags in an average 500-square foot deck. Others companies use the plastic from milk jugs and similar containers collected in recycling programs. The plastic is ground up, cleaned, heated, and made into little plastic pellets that then are formed into lumber.

So… that means you likely have plastics throughout your home that could come back as recycled plastic lumber—if you recycle them. For example:

  • Kitchen: milk jugs, margarine tubs, plastic bags, and product overwraps
  • Bedroom: dry cleaner bags
  • Bathroom: some shampoo and conditioner bottles
  • Laundry room: laundry detergent and fabric softener bottles

Plastic bottles, jugs, and containers—rigid plastics—typically are collected in curbside recycling bins. Can plastic bags be recycled? Yes! BUT plastic bags and wraps—film plastics—should be brought back to participating grocery and retail stores for recycling.

When we recycle the plastics we use in our everyday lives, we’re doing our part to help the environment by reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions. And durable, long-lasting plastic lumber can be replaced less often, which also diminishes our environmental footprint.

So kick back and relax on your sturdy neighborhood park bench or your recycled plastic lounge chair on your recycled plastic deck. And remember: keep recycling…