The construction industry owes a big thank you to recyclers for creating an extraordinary application for plastics: decking.
Given their effort, it will be a shame if recyclers lose a big piece of this market to companies that make competing decking with virgin resin.
As staff reporter Craig Urey disclosed last week, the market for alternative decking — including vinyl, plastic lumber, wood composites and fiberglass — already accounts for $60 million to $100 million in annual sales.
Some in the industry say the market eventually could hit $1 billion in annual sales.
Plastic alternatives frequently are more expensive than redwood and pressure-treated lumber, but lumber pricing and availability fluctuate wildly. More importantly, plastic is durable, attractive and requires little maintenance — real advantages in the construction market.
Plastic lumber makers worked hard to popularize plastic decking. As anyone in the construction industry knows, it wasn't an easy row to hoe.
Builders usually are skeptical of any new products — rightly so in this case, given the cost of residential decking and the tough demands of the application.
Plastic lumber makers did most of their pioneering work for municipalities. They built playgrounds, boardwalks, piers and similar products. Often the projects were part of deals: The lumber companies used the cities' difficult-to-recycle plastics as raw material in exchange for the cities' agreements to buy the lumberlike end-products.
Right now, competing alternative materials are fighting for a piece of the decking market, which still is dominated by real wood. But the advantages of plastic, and a healthy dose of marketing, are likely to trigger a shakeout among materials and suppliers.
Will recyclers survive? The market will decide. But they certainly deserve at least a healthy niche in this growing market. And perhaps manufacturers of competing materials will consider using recycled content in their products to avoid a case of environmental backsliding.