As it turns out, the U.S. lumber industry has been sustainably managing forest lands for more than half a century. What’s more, in the years since, we’ve come to realize there are unintended consequences of choosing plastic like the fact that it escapes from landfills and ends up in waterways and the ocean where it will stay for a very long time because plastic is not biodegradable like wood is.
In figuring out how to deal with plastic pollution, eco-conscious advocates increasingly tout the benefits of post-consumer recycled construction materials, or “plastic wood.” But while this may be one way of dealing with plastic trash, studies have shown that when it comes to carbon footprints and the fight against global warming, lumber beats plastic, even recycled plastic. Softwood species like Southern Yellow Pine are fast-growing and sustainable.
Looking at the Data
From potential for acid rain, to respiratory effects and overall energy usage, wood-plastic composites have the highest levels of negative impact in all categories, according to environmental advocates Dovetail, Inc. The picture for carbon footprints is even more definitive, as a University of Tennessee review showed that in every category of building and manufacturing use, Softwood Lumber, like Southern Yellow Pine, had a negative carbon impact.
This means that the use of whole lumber for construction is actually reducing carbon in the atmosphere, rather than contributing to it as plastic does, making lumber the better choice for the environment.