As the global demand for lumber continues to skyrocket, it’s time to think hard about using alternatives to wood. So, why not plastic?
In the latest episode of the Popular Mechanics series “MADE HERE,” we tour the factory for Polywood, a company that takes recycled plastic (mostly milk jugs), turns it into “lumber,” and uses it to fashion outdoor furniture.
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“Recycled plastic is important because the nature of the materials—can be used infinitely,” says Doug Rassi, the founder and CEO of Polywood. “You can remake them and remake them, and you never ever have to throw these materials away.”
Polywood pulls its materials from U.S. recycling centers and “ocean-bound hotbeds throughout the world,” says Bryce Glock, a retail sales manager with Polywood. Then the work begins.
First, machines process, clean, flake, and pelletize the plastic bales. Next, vacuums move the pellets into storage silos until they’re ready to blend with extra materials before becoming Polywood lumber boards. Before workers can cut the boards, though, they have to color them with dye and form them (in a heater) to match the size needed for specific pieces of furniture.
Then, the boards move through cooling tanks, and finally, a CNC machine cuts them. For the last step, Polywood staffers box up the pieces and prep them for shipping.
Rassi hopes Polywood’s products show plastics can always find new lives, and don’t need to end up in landfills or the sea.
“Plastics [have] this disposable connotation to them,” says Rassi. “It’s very ingrained into our culture, and we’re working very much to change that.”
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