09th August, 2018

Plastic Lumber: A Green Solution for Building Materials

Large-scale construction projects can be major sources of waste or recycling, depending on the materials. Better building material selections can benefit the environment without sacrificing integrity. For example, plastic lumber looks and installs like traditional lumber, but is primarily sourced from post-consumer and post-industrial products.

This engineering breakthrough came out of Rutgers University with the goal to recycle all the world’s unused plastic. Thomas Nosker figured out a way to harness the power of non-toxic synthetic plastics to create a new building material. The invention of plastic lumber is made mostly from household milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles. Recycled plastic lumber is economical, durable, and offers the same look as wood.

For more background on plastic lumber, let’s dive into its properties and usage as a building material.

Not Your Average Plastic

You might be thinking, how can plastic look realistically like wood? This is achieved by creating colors and textures that emulate wood,  and the product can even be embossed to match natural wood grains.

Building structures out of plastic is nothing new, even for large support beams needing to brace a lot of weight. Once the texture and wood grain appearance was nailed, engineers then figured out how to mimic wood’s strength and durability. Plastic lumber can be sanded, screwed, nailed, and sawed just like wood.

Advantages of Plastic Lumber

You might have a few ideas of how this material can be used, such as decking or fencing, but there’s more than that. On a fundamental level, here are some benefits of recycled plastic lumber:

Weather-Proof Durability

Recycled plastic lumber is water and chemical resistant. Rot, mold, and mildew won’t grow on it, and it won’t crack or chip. This makes it perfect for furniture and children’s play areas without fear of cuts and splinters.


Taking care of recycled plastic boards is a breeze. To clean, just give it a rinse or mop every now and then, or pressure wash the material for a deep clean. No need to wax, finish or paint, as the color is manufactured throughout the material. You also don’t need to seal it to protect against insects and mold.

Maintenance is a huge factor for going with structural plastic lumber, which was developed to conquer the most severe environments and weather conditions. It is resistant to termites, marine borers, salt, and oil. It won’t rot or grow fungus and won’t splinter, crack or degrade.

Impact on the Environment

Recycled poly lumber is made from recycled plastic and is recyclable itself. It takes only one-tenth of the water to produce as traditional wood lumber. Reducing water consumption and protecting water quality are key objectives in sustainable building. By reducing water you can help conserve natural resources.


Not only is recycled plastic lumber good for the environment, it’s good for keeping overhead costs low. It lasts longer and costs less to maintain. Builders often overlook long-term economic challenges like considering the cost to treat, clean, and restain wood over time.

As far as the viability of plastic wood in the construction market, it will only increase as the cost of lumber goes up. Exotic lumbers are on borrowed time as it is, just look at the market for authentic teak, mahogany, Ipe, and cherry woods. Plastic wood offers the ability to attain the aesthetics of exotic lumber without the ecological impact.


Probably one of the more underrated characteristics of plastic building materials is the ease of removing paint, marker, and even etchings. Paint can be washed off, rather than washing for hours as it doesn’t adhere to HDPE. Similarly to wood, if the board is etched, it can be sanded or planed to remove the markings.

Plastic wood is a good defense against graffiti and destructive vandalism. In contrast, treated wood is expensive and largely ineffective for preventing vandalism. Paint can still seep or strip the protective barrier. It’s very expensive and tough to combat against defacement of property with standard wood.

Manufacturing Process

Before we get into explaining the different uses of plastic lumber, here’s a brief rundown of how it is produced. Essentially, you start with recycled plastic HDPE, like milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles. These then go through Tangent’s quality control process to ensure only the best material ends up in the finished product. From there, the containers start their journey to becoming plastic lumber by getting ground down and sanitized and impurities are removed. No heavy chemicals are used to accomplish this, as it would hinder the ability to use plastic lumber in a variety of applications.

When choosing recycled plastic lumber, you reduce the usage of water and help conserve natural resources like wood and energy. There is little waste produced during the manufacturing process, unlike wood. Imagine all the billions of tons of plastic that can be “cleaned” up from the environment by turning it into something that can be used an infinite number of times. That’s the power of recycling.

Top Recycled Plastic Lumber Uses

The beauty of plastic lumber is that it can be used for and molded into a variety of profiles. You can have the texture of wood appear around pedestrian bridges, outdoor displays, and outdoor furniture. Check out these great general-purpose and commercial recycled plastic lumber uses.

Decks and Porches

Businesses are throwing in the towel and opting for a more manageable solution for outdoor spaces. Plastic building materials can handle a lot of abuse over the years and with a 50 year warranty from Tangent, you can be sure to have a worry-free deck for years to come.

If you live in a wet and humid part of the country, you’re going to need to keep your wood constantly clean, waxed, and stained. If you slack off at any point, you run the risk of potential mold, fading, and weak points in your deck or porch. It doesn’t happen overnight, but over the years your deck can fail against the elements.

That’s why plastic lumber is so appealing: no fading, peeling, or cracking and virtually no maintenance.

Parks and Boardwalks

Because plastic lumber is waterproof and mold-proof, it can be built on or around a body of water without fear of damage. It is structural and durable, yet is low-maintenance and doesn’t require painting or staining. Recycled plastic lumber is perfect for nature trails, fishing piers, and boardwalks.

Fences and Gates

Wooden fences require consistent pressure washing, repainting, and they still degrade over the years. Wooden gates have the same problem, plus the added annoyance of warping that can cause trouble closing it. Plastic lumber is so durable and reliable that even in extreme weather you can depend on it lasting. Keep the front of your property line looking immaculate with little effort.

Outdoor Furniture

This is going to be one of the most common places to see recycled plastic lumber utilized. The constant struggle against water damage, sun damage, and insects make owning outdoor furniture a chore. Maintaining wood-equivalent pieces of furniture is going to be a more expensive investment to retain its original beauty.

Try Plastic Boards Today

If you’re ready to make the switch, go ahead and request some samples to see just how beautiful plastic lumber can be. Make your next project an eco-friendly and no-fuss solution to incorporating the warmth of wood without any of the drawbacks.