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What is Plastic Lumber?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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Plastic lumber is a type of artificial "wooden" boards made from plastic, although it may also include other composite materials. There are a number of advantages to this material, which have led to an increasing demand for it since the 1990s, when commercial producers began fabricating it in volume. Many hardware and lumber stores carry plastic lumber, and built products made from it are also readily available from an assortment of manufacturers.

Pure plastic lumber is made entirely from recycled plastic materials, which are shredded, melted, and molded into wood forms. Many companies also dye their products, offering several colors for consumers to choose from. Composite lumber typically includes wood chips or shavings, with the plastic providing structural support, making it sturdier than fiberboard and other products made from compressed shredded wood. Fiber-reinforced plastic lumber is made with recycled plastic and glass, and it is extremely strong and very durable.

There are a number of reasons why plastic lumber can be better than real wood. It's low maintenance, since it does not need to be painted, stained, varnished, or otherwise maintained; the same properties which make global plastic pollution a huge problem make this lumber an ideal building material, since it will not break down. It is also environmentally friendly, re-using recycled plastic material and reducing the necessity of cutting down trees. Furthermore, plastic lumber is incredibly strong and sturdy, making it suitable for a range of applications, and it will not splinter.

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One of the most common places to see plastic lumber is in outdoor environments. Because it resists mold, rot, and decay, it can be used on bridges, docks, fencing, decking, and other outdoor applications. It can also be used as siding for structures, and for building stables, barns, and other structures that see heavy wear over their lifetimes. Most companies stress that the recovered plastics they use are not harmful, making them safe for use in a range of locations.

While the thought of using plastic lumber might seem tacky, many companies make it of such high quality that it can be difficult to differentiate it from real lumber, especially at a distance. With increasing demand for these products, companies have also rolled out an assortment of colors, allowing people to choose from natural shades in addition to artificial ones. It'is also in demand in industrial and institutional applications, as it can withstand environments like prisons, playgrounds, and parks.

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Discuss this Article

Almita
Post 4

Thanks for the help! I've decided to build my new storage shed out of plastic lumber as well as a new set of lawn furniture. I got a free plastic wood sample online and it's amazing stuff. It comes it lots of different colors and does fade, so I won't have the hassle of repainting either.

The price isn't that bad and one website I read said that plastic lumber makes great roofing shingles. It would never have to be replaced, so I think I'll invest in those too. I live in a very rainy area, so moss is a huge problem here.

Thanks again!

Jacques6
Post 3

@Almita - I under plastic wood to build a play house for my kids. It was sort of a test drive to see how the plastic compared to the normal wood. Once they out grew the playhouse, I took it apart and used the same wood to make a dog house. Since the plastic wood doesn't rot -- I can probably keep reusing it until it has too many holes in it.

I found a place that sells a kit to build a dock out of plastic lumber. It would never rot or break. Brilliant!

I think the only thing stopping construction companies from using plastic wood is the price. If companies find ways to lower the prices, they would probably get more business.

minthybear19
Post 2

@Almita - Plastic lumber is a very green way to go. Not only does it save space in landfills, it never rots so it never has to be replaced. Normally, you would have to buy more wood in a few years to replace it -- which means more lumber demand and more trees getting the ax.

It is probably two or three times as expensive as regular lumber. But remember that it will never rot -- you literally will never have to replace it. I think that the price is about right.

For the most part, you will have to buy plastic wood online. There aren't very many stores that carry it in person since it's sort of a specialty item.

Almita
Post 1

I never knew that plastic lumber even existed! I live in a small town and our hardware store doesn't carry anything like this. I asked friends about it and they all though it was amazing too.

I would love to use this to built some outside furniture. Plastic lumber sounds like the green way to go -- it gets all of that plastic out of the environment. Does anyone know where to buy it? Is is really expensive compared to regular lumber?

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