How Eco-Friendly Composite Decking Recycles Plastic into Beautifully Sustainable Decks

Composite bamboo and plastic decking looks like tropical hardwood, but uses fast-growing bamboo and recycled plastic instead, for a more earth-friendly deck.

Composite bamboo and plastic decking looks like tropical hardwood, but uses fast-growing bamboo and recycled plastic instead, for a more earth-friendly deck.

As a contractor, I’ve seen more and more of my regular clients become increasingly interested in environmentally sustainable options for building projects over the years, for everything from new homes to decks to backyard fences. And for good reason. Buildings, and in turn the construction industry, are responsible for an enormous portion of the energy produced by our modern society. In the U.S. alone, buildings account for 39% of the CO2 produced. Although my own remodeling and construction projects are just a drop in the bucket, every step I take toward eco-friendly practices counts, especially if it encourages other clients and builders to also make more sustainable choices.

One of the easiest ways to go green when you build is to choose recycled materials for your deck or patio. Traditional decks are decidedly anything but carbon neutral, especially when built from tropical hardwoods, a practice leading to the loss of the world’s rainforest ecosystems. While using responsibly sourced wood is a step in the right direction, there is a much more environmentally sustainable alternative: eco-friendly composite decking. Fully capped composite decking transforms materials like plastic and bamboo that would otherwise be headed for a landfill or into a beautiful outdoor haven that will last for decades on end. If going green and outdoor livability are priorities, build an environmentally-friendly and sustainable deck.

The Problem with Traditional Tropical Hardwood Decking

One of the most popular decking materials is a rainforest hardwood from Brazil called Ipe. It’s chosen for its moisture resistance, durability, and long life. Many builders and clients interested in going green have begun purchasing Ipe that’s been certified as sustainable in hopes of mitigating environmental impacts on the rainforests.

Unfortunately, despite best efforts, there are difficulties ensuring that rainforest logging is sustainable and performed in accordance with environmental standards. There’s a lot of money to be made in the logging industry—often enough to push eco-friendly practices to the side for the sake of the almighty dollar. Instead of using Ipe and other exotic hardwoods from the world’s rainforests, contractors are now beginning to agree that it’s far more sustainable and easy on the earth to reuse materials like plastic and bamboo that are both abundant and replaceable.

How Recycled Plastic Decking Keeps Oceans Clean

You’re probably already familiar with the environmentally damaging effects of plastic, so it may come as a surprise to read about plastics being earth-friendly. It almost goes without saying at this point that plastic takes a very, very long time to break down in landfills, potentially leeching off harmful chemicals in the process. And then there are those floating islands of plastic in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. When not caught up in an oceanic gyre, the plastic breaks down into smaller particles, causing a great deal of harm to the marine life and zooplankton that ingest it. Keeping plastic out of landfills—and out of the world’s bodies of water—must become a priority for the health of our biosphere. But the plastic does have to go somewhere. And it can be used in sustainable ways.

Recycling plastic is a necessary step in the right direction for living lightly upon the earth—but it is only the first step. In traditional recycling, plastic can only be down-cycled. In other words, a plastic water bottle can’t be made into another plastic water bottle. Water bottles are typically turned into plastic bags, the last step in the life of recycled plastic. That is until composite decking came along. Enter plastic’s new role in going green at home.

Composite Plastic Decking Is the Answer to Sustainable Deck Construction

Early generations of composite decking certainly had some flaws, shortening their effective lifespan and detracting from the environmental benefits of the material. They would become easily waterlogged and warped, which then lead to designers placing a rigid cap on top. This development proved less than effective because moisture would still enter the decking boards from the sides and from the bottom. But some manufacturers have now begun to add capping to all sides of the board, creating what is known as a fully capped board. These modern composite boards are significantly more durable than their older cousins, allowing them to upcycle plastic into a truly usable form.

And, while the first generations of composite decking were made to look like faux wood grain that wasn’t particularly convincing, newer products have improved not only in sustainability, but in curb appeal. Featuring a certain shininess, older recycled material decking bore a decidedly plastic look and feel. The new generation of composite decking, though, proves much more convincing, even resembling Ipe and other popular tropical hardwoods in color and texture to the extent that it’s easy to believe you’re walking on wood. The new capping surface is made out of a grippy, engineered resin as well, even giving the deck a comfortable wood-like feeling under the feet.

When I do use wood for my decks, it’s always FSC-certified wood, but it’s a decision I’ve been making with less frequency lately. Our current environmental situation calls for me, for all of us, to make eco-friendly choices that keep more trees in the forests—and more plastic out of the landfills and the oceans. By using the latest in fully capped bamboo composite decking materials for my construction projects, I know I’m making a great choice for my clients and the planet. Among my current favorites, Infinity Decking is a dead ringer for Ipe and other hardwoods, but without any of the environmental drawbacks. Another great feature of these boards is that one side appears as regular wood and the other side appears as distressed wood, giving the consumer a choice of two natural wood finishes. Produced by Fortress Deck, it’s also extremely easy to install and requires very little maintenance over the long course of its life. If you like the looks of it, I’ve also come to appreciate the wider range of innovative construction materials found at Fortress Building Products. Sustainable and beautiful—it’s in the very nature of Fortress composite decking products.

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