One of the biggest reasons why city planners and private business owners consider composite decking is the idea that they don’t want to harm the environment. After all, deforestation is a huge concern in the minds of environmentalists. Since some of the most sought-after wood decking products are made of Ipe, Cumaru, and other tropical hardwoods, some people are reluctant to use these materials for fear of harming the rainforest.
Let’s take an in-depth look at this argument for a few moments. Contrary to popular belief, composite decking is less environmentally friendly than tropical hardwood decking. Several factors lead to this surprising conclusion (see Parts 1, 2 & 3). In our final two articles in this series, we’ll seek to explain how those who care about the environment should choose wood decking rather than composite decking.
Wood Decking is Renewable and Composite Decking is Non-Renewable
Oil companies use their waste byproducts to produce composite decking materials. That means that, unlike wood decking, polypropylene, polyethylene, and polyvinyl used to produce composite decking is non-renewable. It is made by one of the least environmentally sound industries on the planet. Even though some people point to the fact that at least these byproducts are being used rather than ending up in the landfill, that’s only partially true. When a deck made from composite materials wears out and is no longer usable, its non-biodegradable decking boards will still end up sitting around as garbage for decades into the future. That doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly!
Compare that unpleasant reality to what happens with wood decking products. Because they come from trees, they’re a renewable resource. Thanks to modern governmental regulations and forestry practices, an average of ten to 20 trees are planted for each tree that is harvested from the forests. Because of these replanting efforts, only a small fraction of the world’s current deforestation happens due to the lumber industry. Oil companies, by contrast, are unable to renew the petroleum that they use. Also, when wood decking wears out, it can be recycled and transformed into all sorts of new products.
Wood Decking is Less Harmful than Composite Decking if it Ends Up in the Ocean
Boardwalks are designed to line seashores and lakefronts. But what happens when there’s a hurricane that hits and pulls composite decking materials out into the sea? Those boards will either end up on the ocean floor or wash up on the beach somewhere and end up at the dump. In either instance, they’ll simply add to the pollution buildup that already plagues our oceans and landfills. Wood decking that is carried out to sea, however, will eventually break down in about a decade.
Wood Decking is Fire Rated and Composite Decking is Not
The most popular wood used for decking, Ipe, has a class A fire rating. This means that is extremely fire-resistant. Composite decking, however, burns easily. Worst of all, when it burns and the plastic breaks down, it can release toxic gas fumes into the air. There are numerous occasions where a city boardwalk could be exposed to fire, such as ate seaside restaurants and food trucks cooking nearby. All it would take for a large composite deck to go up in flames would be a small accident involving a street vendor cart.
In our final article, we’ll explain a couple more ways that wood decking materials are a greener choice for boardwalks than composite decking.