Outdoor Design Redo: Plastic Makes Perfect

Do something good for the planet by using plastic transformed into fences, sidewalks and furniture.

Recycled plastic split rail fence

Recycled plastic split rail fence

I used to be a plastic milk jug, but now I'm a fence.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Close the Loop Company. closetheloop.com

Image courtesy of Close the Loop Company. closetheloop.com

I used to be a plastic milk jug, but now I'm a fence.

“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it.” This sage advice, given to Dustin Hoffman’s bewildered title character during a welcome home party in The Graduate, might have been a satiric, anti-establishment punch line in 1967 but it seems prophetic now. 

There really is a great future in plastics and it’s called recycling. All of the plastic items that used to go into landfills are beginning to experience a second coming as attractively designed, eco-friendly products for the home and yard.

Fencing

We’ve come a long way from traditional fencing made from wood or metal and homeowners are starting to appreciate the alternative. With recycled plastic fencing you can reproduce the aesthetic appeal of a split rail redwood fence like this example from Close the Loop but avoid the problems that come with wooden offerings. There is no need for staining or painting since vinyl fencing comes in a wide range of colors and styles and doesn’t include toxic chemicals that could leach into your yard (a common problem with pressure treated wood). Low maintenance is another plus factor since recycled plastic won’t attract termites or carpenter bees or warp and decay due to severe weather. But best of all, you’ll be doing the environment a favor by conserving trees.

Decks

Recycled plastic is also becoming a much sought after component for outdoor decks, railings and porches. One of the leading innovators in this field is Trex which, for more than fifteen years, has mostly been transforming plastic bags and wraps into wood-alternative decking that looks great and can withstand the most extreme weather. The company reportedly salvages more than 400 million pounds of plastic and wood scraps from landfills yearly and converts them into products that offer the beauty and comfort of wood without the maintenance issues or the plastic-like appearance of PVC.

Outdoor Furniture

Believe it or not, some of the most chic and award-winning outdoor furniture is currently being created predominantly from recycled milk jugs. Companies such as Loll DesignsAmish Poly Lawn FurnitureVermont Woods Studios, and many others are offering stunning, high-end plastic alternatives to deck furniture that was traditionally made of teak, redwood or cedar. Besides the exciting range of colors and styles, these recycled plastic creations are insect, mildew and mold-proof, easy to clean and non-toxic.

Garden Accessories

Here’s another idea which is not only a great way to solve the problem of limited garden space but also adds a distinctive visual flair at the same time: the vertical planter. One of the most creative designs, offered by Plants on Walls, is the Florafelt vertical garden planter. Designer Chris Bribach said, “I was committed to using sustainable manufacturing methods that I learned from William McDonough's book, Cradle To Cradle, so I worked with manufacturers to develop a synthetic growing medium I called Florafelt. Made from 100% recycled P.E.T. plastic bottles it is considered food-safe which will not only last indefinitely but can be re-melted to create other products.”  

Garden Art

Some gardeners are exploring their creative side and creating beautiful and playful outdoor art out of plastic containers and bottles. Everything from animal sculpture to brightly colored imitation flowers to bird baths to bottle trees to hanging vases. This unusually striking example, created by the design studio Rosenbaum using recycled plastic bottles, works as a wall installation and an inexpensive solution to limited space for growing herbs. 

Walkways

A plastic sidewalk? Why not? Instead of concrete and the problems that come with it such as the expense of replacing broken sidewalks, you can now find recycled plastic alternatives such as Terrewalks that look like concrete but are about 1/8 of the weight and are constructed for maximum storm water management and tree root accommodation. There is no down side to this and it’s much more pliant and supportive for human traffic than concrete.

Play Areas for Children

Companies like Play Mart, PD Play and Earthscapes Structures are doing their part to minimize waste and practice environmental conservancy by rethinking the concept of playgrounds using recycled plastic lumber and bottles. Imaginative environments in day-glo colors and thematic in nature like the Noah’s Ark play area for toddlers or the Village Pirate Ship are safe, non-toxic and inviting to children. They also offer long-term durability and are designed to spark creativity in youngsters during outdoor play. 

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