The next time you walk to the park you should take a moment to consider the many benefits that come from parks. They are green spaces that ensure we each have at least a small space to feel in touch with nature. They are places where kids and adults can run around, play games, and have fun. They are wonderful spots for socialization and human interaction (as well as the new trend in dog parks where our pets can play too). Clearly, they are places that we should strive to protect.
So, parks are amazingly beneficial, but did you know that there is another way that parks can be of benefit? They are one of the biggest consumers of recycled plastic furniture. That doesn't sound like a lot when said so simply, but the use of recycled plastic in such quantities does mean a lot. In fact, the processes by which recycled plastic park furnishings are made can save the environment from a tremendous amount of damage.
And this is not some far away rainforest we are describing. It is your local environment and the air and water around you. Consider that recycling plastics actually saves a huge amount of energy in your local grid while simultaneously preventing toxins from spilling into the air.
It is the widespread use of recycled plastic furnishings that is becoming a truly great way to use such beneficial processes and materials. For example, a very brief list of the things that can be crafted from recycled plastics include:
- Park benches
- Park picnic tables
- Kids furniture and apparatus
- Garbage receptacles
- Planters and raised beds
Now, that pretty much sums up everything in a park apart from the playground gear and the buildings. This constitutes a lot of material, and when the park is furnished with recycled plastic park furniture it means that an enormous amount of waste was kept out of the landfill and used to make comfortable and useful furnishings.
Of course, diverting materials from landfills is not where the story ends. The environmental and financial benefits of recycled plastic park furniture are extensive:
- They do not contain harmful compounds and do not contaminate the park
- They are usually recyclable and can be processed and reused to make new items later
- They are non-toxic
- They cut down on deforestation and pollution
- They require no maintenance
- They do not age like other furnishings and often last for 50 years
- They do not stain, crack, peel, or splinter
- They are waterproof
- They resist UV rays
- They do not attract insects or bacteria
- They are resistant to mold and mildew
- They are easy to clean
And this is only a partial list of the benefits of choosing recycled plastic furniture for a park or a playground.
How the Environment Benefits
What is most interesting about the use of recycled plastic in park furnishings is that it is often made from HDPE or High-density polyethylene. This is the most abundant type of recycled plastic and is often handled at the local level. So, in addition to diverting plastic waste from the landfill, it also helps the local economy and recycling firms by channeling this material into a beneficial process.
It also prevents the creation of PVC from occurring. Though this is a popular type of plastic for many industries, it is known to emit harmful gases. The use of HDPE instead, and the local nature of it, means that far fewer fumes and harmful gases will be created through manufacturing and shipping.
A Typical Process
How can something like a plastic water bottle end up as a durable and attractive park bench or picnic table? Generally, furnishings are made when HDPE is recycled. It is cleaned, shredded, and ground and then melted with certain compounds (usually pigments to provide color and a "stabilizer" to help with UV resistance). Then special machines known as extruders will take the melted HDPE and form it into the different shapes.
The forms could look just like lumber but they might also take the shape of the bench or the table. So, how much is required? According to one firm it would take around 240 milk jugs (gallon size) to create a recycled plastic armchair. That is a lot of waste for a comfortable and useful item.
So, the next time you take a seat at the nearest park or sit down to enjoy your lunch at your children's playground. Take a moment to see if the furniture is plastic. If so, it could have saved the environment a lot of wear and tear, and it was a wise investment on the part of the town, city, or school that purchased it.
- A Guide to Recycling Plastics - PDF
- Common Uses of Recycled Plastic Lumber (RPL)
- Perennial Park Products: What is HDPE?
- University of Utah: Green Living Guide - PDF
Find more about the author: Kristen Breedlove