Nature and Biodiversity

This 'fake wood' is transforming the Canadian furniture industry

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80% of recyclable plastic waste from Halifax, Canada is reused. Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Johnny Wood
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Plastic Pollution

  • A new initiative is converting plastic waste into a wood substitute used for construction.
  • Around 80% of recyclable plastic waste from the Canadian city of Halifax is reused, the project says.
  • The synthetic timber is durable and can be nailed, glued and handled like real wood.

How should we handle the mountains of plastic waste - including food containers, drinks bottles and single-use shopping bags - that are thrown away each day? One company in Halifax, Canada, has an interesting solution: turning this waste into building materials.

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It’s an example of the circular economy at work. The initiative collects and converts 80% of the city’s recyclable plastic waste into synthetic lumber, wharf timbers, guardrails and agricultural posts, which can be nailed, shaped and used like regular timber.

The faux-wood planks and blocks, produced by Goodwood Plastic Products, are made of solid plastic, which is more dense and heavier than real wood – but, the firm says, also more durable.

“Plastic isn’t going away anytime soon – there’s always going to be plastic – and what we need to do is find more responsible ways to deal with it, and how we can manage it better at its end of life, or give it a new youth,” Mike Chassie, the company’s vice president, recently told a local radio station.

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Recyclable plastic waste in Halifax is being turned into park benches, picnic tables and more. Image: LakeCity Plastics

Furniture for the future

To date, the company’s recycled building blocks have been used to create durable outdoor furniture, including park benches and picnic tables. And it says that while the finished product is more expensive than real wood, its life expectancy can be several times longer.

This is not the company’s first initiative aimed at reusing plastics. A recent partnership with food retailer Sobeys constructed Canada’s first parking lot made almost entirely from recycled waste plastic, which was diverted from local landfill sites.

A growing waste problem

Plastic is cheap, lightweight, durable and comes in all shapes and sizes. It is also polluting the planet’s rivers, oceans, beaches and everywhere in between. And the amount of single-use plastic waste we generate is growing.

The New Plastics Economy, a World Economic Forum report, explains that worldwide plastic use has increased 20-fold in the past half-century and is expected to double again over the next two decades. The report notes that 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems around the world.

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This chart shows urban and rural collections rates by local income. Image: World Bank

While effective waste management is common in high-income countries, just under half of the waste generated in low-income nations is collected. Without effective waste management systems in place, discarded plastic clogs urban infrastructure or finds its way into rivers and waterways.

The UN Environment Programme estimates around 13 million tonnes of plastic drain into our oceans every year, polluting the food chain and damaging marine ecosystems.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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