Plastic lumber replaced wood on staging platforms that sled racers used in the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games, held last week in Lake Placid, N.Y. The state of New York hopes the innovation could give Lake Placid an advantage for a future Olympic bid.
"Everybody's talking green building design. Why not showcase a project using material from recycled content?" said Keith Lashway, an engineer and director of New York's Environmental Management Investment Group. He oversaw the project since its inception in November.
"This plastic lumber is here to stay. All they can do now is improve on the mix and formulations," he said in a telephone interview from Albany, N.Y.
Chicago-based U.S. Plastic Lumber Ltd.'s TriMax structural plastic lumber was the material of choice for three staging platforms, starting points and unloading areas for the bobsled, skeleton and luge races.
The largest platform, where bobsled and skeleton races began at the top of the run, is about 76 feet by 68 feet. Further down is another 20-by-30-foot platform where women's and double luge races take off, and the finish platform at the end of the run is 47 foot by 30 feet.
Made from about 1 million recycled milk jugs and laundry detergent bottles, and reinforced with fiberglass, the platforms took less than three months to complete.
Lashway said the builders and suppliers faced challenges of not only having to complete the structures within a short time period, but also of dealing with a material that had not been used before in such an application.
But once adjustments were made, Lashway said building the platforms was not much different from working with wood.
"Plastic lumber has a tendency to expand and contract more than treated wood, but you have to design for that," Lashway said. "You have to design the deck for breathing room with slotted holes."
"You design everything so you have slip joints and sliding joints. You work around those problems."
Lashway has worked with the American Society for Testing and Materials to ensure thorough testing of plastic lumber for the last two years. He convinced the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid to replace the older wooden platforms with plastic lumber.
The success of the Lake Placid project could open the doors for other commercial and residential uses of plastic lumber, he said.
"The stuff has taken on a lot more strength characteristics to the point where it is now a viable alternative to treated lumber," Lashway said. "This is the first time the [recycled plastic lumber] technology has been advanced to a point where it can be used in this high-strength application.
"That's why it's such a showcase project."
For USPL, the expectation is that this successful application for TriMax as a product also will gain notice and increased use in the future.
"We think products like this can demonstrate how recycled yet engineered goods can be incorporated into structures successfully," said Michael Dahl, USPL vice president of engineered products. "This can apply to a wide variety of applications both municipal and commercial."
Dahl said TriMax primarily has been used in various decking and marine applications.
TriMax can carry a commercial load of 100 pounds per square foot, according to a USPL news release. Other benefits of TriMax include high elasticity and low moisture absorption, Dahl said.