The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 17, 2008

Find the plastic contest winner!

Last week I held a contest to find a big mass of plastic hidden in some photos from Vajrapani Retreat Center. And the winner is… JULIE who wrote, “I definitely think it’s the decking around the larger building. I’ve been at houses with the reclaimed plastic decking before.” Julie, please email me your address so I can send you the book.

Click to see larger sizes.

All who guessed that it was the railings or the decking on the bridge were on the right track. But the bridge and walkway are all wood, as are the handrails and all the wood of the deck structure (risers, etc.) around the building except for the floorboards themselves. So it was hard to tell at first that the steps and floor boards are plastic. I could tell by looking at the boards from the side. And also from the slipperiness of the boards after some rain.

I wanted to find out more info about the “greenness” of recycled plastic decking vs. Forest Stewardship Council certified wood decking before writing this post, but I ran out of time. There are pros and cons to both kinds. My gut tells me to avoid the plastic, even if it’s recycled. But I’ll keep researching. What are your thoughts?

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11 years ago

I know this is a really old post, but I’m reading through the whole blog from the beginning and wanted to comment. I live in Florida on the beach, and my house is up on pilings so my ground floor is really like living on the second story of a regular home. I have to have steps and a deck just to get into my house, and right now it’s made of wood. The previous owners didn’t take care of it and so it’s falling apart. When we rebuild the deck, we are going to use the Trex deck materials because it will need minimal maintenance and last a lifetime. I think there are some instances where plastic is a good choice, and this is what works in this climate.

Beth Terry
11 years ago
Reply to  lisa

Hi, Lisa. I understand. I just wish Trex provided a way to recycle the material at the end of its life. Perhaps if enough customers ask…

15 years ago

I know where 3900 plastic grocery bags went – see this photo I took at my local grocery store yesterday

I have seen benches made from recycled plastic “planks” that bow down under their own weight over time so the composition is very important.

15 years ago

I’ve been going to look in to this to so I can write about the recycled plastic edging that I’ve been using. I chose it because I hate the look of the traditional black plastic edging plus that is clearly not a good choice environmentally. I don’t have the time or the skill to use real wood and really I wasn’t going for that look anyway. I figured this was the best of both worlds as far as appearance goes and at least a little better than the other plastic alternatives. The only website I found just now is here.
I’ll write more on my blog eventually with pictures. It didn’t say on the label what % recycled material so that worried me a little.

15 years ago

Yeah, it’s hard to really get away from making a decision that doesn’t have some negative consequences. I was thinking a concrete patio would be a good solution, but I know at least one of the ingredients in concrete is mined, so I no longer feel good about that. I think I would look for recycled lumber or building materials through a Habitat for Humanity or one of those recycled building supply stores.

15 years ago

Do you ever wonder whether so-called “recycled” products are really made out of recycled materials or not? It’s like the Diet Coke do we know it’s really diet, and not regular? I know there are governmental standards in place for this sort of thing, but we all know how much the government tends to care about the environment. I guess my point is that plastic should just be avoided no matter what..just a thought.

15 years ago

About 3 years ago I changed out my deck for the composite plastic/wood decking known as EverGrain. It is made from sawdust and polyethelene and a small amount of coloring agent. The aged redwood deck that was there already had not been properly cared for by the previous owner of my house and my son was continually getting splinters in his feet (he was about a year and half old at this point and not picking up his feet properly). I agonized over buying new wood to build a deck, knowing trees would have died and I would constantly have to keep treating the deck with chemicals to keep it from deteriorating in the sun/rain. The makers of EverGrain claim that their product has recycled material in it, though they don’t say how much or what it is. It’s perhaps the next phone call for my blog (I’ve been calling companies and asking them to switch packaging and go to glass/ceramic/bioplastics). There is minimal swelling from moisture, it doesn’t rot, warp, cup on twist and it lasts a long time. What will I do with it when it wears out? I don’t know: hopefully there will be a solution for it at that point because as of now, there’s nothing you can do with it. Wood will rot away eventually unless you keep putting chemicals on it but there isn’t a truly “green” option for decking aside from not having a deck at all. I’m happy with the product, but I special ordered the heavier 2×6 boards because they provide a stiffer deck. I expect it to last quite a bit longer than a wood deck and so far it’s needed no maintenance aside from pressure washing once it gets really dirty from the overhanging trees. It’s a hard decision and if given the option, I would probably opt for a cement or brick deck/patio instead of a wood/fake wood deck.

15 years ago

the more markets there are for reusing existing plastic, the less new plastic will be created. I hope.

yes, the stuff might outgas or leach into the soil, but it’s going to do that somewhere anyway, and keeping it out of the ocean seems worth trying.

ruchi aka arduous
15 years ago

It’s a complicated question. Ideally, everyone would be more like FPF, and we would have very few plastic bottles or bags to recycle, and thus wouldn’t need plastic decking.

BUT, until the cult of Fake Plastic Fish takes over, I think it is important to have a market for recycled plastic for exactly the point that Erin mentioned. Because otherwise it goes to China and becomes their problem.

As for the plastic leaching into the ground, I think it’s true that the wood will be treated with stuff that will likely leach and be more likely to leach over time which is of more concern I think.

And as to the wood biodegrading, the wood is only going to biodegrade if it doesn’t go to a landfill. In a landfill, things rarely biodegrade that much. They have found pretty much intact food thats over 50 years old in landfills. Landfills preserve stuff pretty well and a wood deck will last hundreds of years, I’d bet.

15 years ago

Well I used the recycled decking on my deck and I will tell you why-
1- I like the look
2- Never need to paint or stain
3- Didn’t have to cut down pefectly good cedar trees for my deck (I hate cutting trees down)
4- Never splinters
5- Never rots
6- Doesn’t swell/shrink as much as wood in the heat
7- wood gets mildewey on my deck- no mold or mildew problems

15 years ago

My only comment is my experience with plastic decking. I like the greenness of it, but it offgasses in the heat. Sitting on the deck in the summer, I would wonder how much gaseous plastic I was inhaling. Something worth checking on.

15 years ago

Neither is really a good choice. What about no plastic, no decking, no logging? Decking seems to me to be a modern, suburban addition to our lives. People have gotten by fine without it forever….

15 years ago

Beth, this post is an interesting tie-in with others in which you have spoken of how we should be more attentive to what is around us.

Something that acts to inhibit our sensitivity to our world is the overwhelming assault of advertising everywhere we go in an urban environment. We shut down our senses because we have to in order to just walk down the street maintaining our sanity.

To show the extreme this assault is reaching, covering every available surface, I recommend to your readers a story in the NYTimes today, "The Train is Coming and With It, More Ads" at

ib mommy
15 years ago

Hi Beth! I’ve never commented before but have been reading for a while:)

If I remember correctly Trex, here in Virginia, uses something like 7 out of 10 plastic shopping bags that get recycled to make plastic decking. I know, it’s still plastic but there aren’t that many ways to recycle those bags are there?

15 years ago

Similar to what Erin said, I was going to mention that even though a large amount of our plastics are recycled (be it domesically or overseas), there are few things that “we” will permit the recycled plastic to be turned into, and plastic lumber is one of them.

And to follow up with her point on the wood deck biodegrading eventually, I would wager that most, if not all decking lumber is treated with chemicals to prevent some combination of rot, waterlogging, wood-boring pests, contortion, etc, which would also be absorbed into the soil upon degradation.

I don’t know what the answer is, and I look forward to reading your research on it!

15 years ago

I haven’t researched this subject well either, but my husband is hardcore set on the plastic decking and wants to put it on our dream house someday. In general, I think it’s best to avoid plastic, but I just finished reading Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte, and I learned that the logging industry is immensely more environmentally damaging than most people realize.

Also, one of the problems with recycling is that there’s often not a market for recycled goods. As you’ve pointed out many times, a lot of our recycling is actually sent overseas. If we want to be able to recycle, we have to buy recycled products, and plastic lumber is often the final resting place for recycled plastics.

On the other hand, wood unlike plastic will biodegrade, so when you’re done with your wood deck, it will eventually return to nature. But since plastic lumber is where plastic bottles go to die, there’s currently not a renewed life for it and it’s just going to sit around forever (slowly coming apart into tiny particles that poison our oceans).

Like the choice between paper and plastic bags, I don’t think there’s a clear choice between wooden decks and plastic decks, but I bet there’s a happy medium out there (like cloth bags to solve the bag problem). Can you make a deck out of bamboo?

15 years ago

I’m so torn on recycled plastic decking. On the one hand, there’s the concern that the plastic might leach chemicals into the ground, etc. On the other hand, isn’t it better for the plastic to be secured in the deck and reused instead of floating around in the ocean or in a landfill? It does hold up well and last a long time, and it keeps trees from being cut down. Hmm. . .