In celebration of Earth Day, we’re giving you an inside look at how we take ocean-bound and landfill-bound plastic and turn it into beautiful outdoor furniture.
A Little History
Since the 1950s, the mass production of disposable plastic has rapidly increased. Unfortunately, plastic is extremely slow to degrade — scientists still don’t know exactly how long plastics will exist after they end up in a landfill.
While we as consumers can make a difference by recycling our plastics, it’s important to know which plastics can and cannot be reused (a little more on that later).
At POLYWOOD we recycle high-density polyethylene (HDPE for short), an extremely durable type of plastic you’ll find all around your home. Milk jugs, detergent containers, shampoo bottles, lotion bottles, cleaner spray bottles, etc. are all made from HDPE. The best part about HDPE is that it can actually be infinitely recycled. Yes, infinitely.
If all of those empty HDPE containers in our lives make it into the recycling bin they’ll have a chance to become something new — and, they might just travel to a little town called Syracuse, IN to become an Adirondack chair.
Our Recycling Process
First, HDPE plastic containers arrive at our recycling plant bundled in large bales.
The flattened plastics are sent up a conveyor to a giant shredder to be pre-shredded.
Next, the shredded plastic flakes are pre-washed and any heavy materials that might have gotten mixed in (glass, rocks, etc.) are removed.
The cleaned and sorted material is then finely ground into a 1/2″ flake and sent to a float tank where any other non-plastic items will sink out of the mix. The flakes are then dried and air separated.
Next, our color sorter will remove any colored plastics we don’t want mixing into the final product. Once sorted, the resulting good material travels up another conveyor to be pelletized.
The final product, shown below, is loads of clear pellets that are ready to be made into genuine POLYWOOD lumber!
Making Genuine POLYWOOD Lumber
The recycled pellets are transported next door to the Extrusion Department by an efficiently designed series of tubes from one building to the next. All pellets are stored in silos outside the building and then sucked in through more tubes that run right to our extrusion lines.
While we can’t divulge every step of the process, we take our recycled pellets, add colorant, along with other additives (to ensure beautiful long-lasting color), and then extrude the mixture to the size and shape of the lumber we need (similar to when you “extruded” play-doh as a kid).
In a day, we extrude about 48,000 to 55,000 pounds of lumber. That equals about 57,000 to 60,000 pounds of landfill-bound and ocean-bound plastic — and that’s just in one day!
Constructing POLYWOOD Furniture
On the last leg of its journey, our HDPE lumber makes its way to our production cells where our team constructs POLYWOOD furniture.
Remember we mentioned that HDPE is infinitely recyclable? After our furniture is made, any scrap lumber pieces, shavings, etc. from manufacturing go right back to our recycling plant to be reground, sent to extrusion, made into lumber, and, well, you know the rest.
Zero waste, pretty cool right?
Plastics by the Numbers
While HDPE plastics are easily recycled, some plastics are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs (pickup availability will vary depending on your location). Below is a cheat sheet on the seven plastic codes so you can brush up on your recycling knowledge.
A few tips:
- Avoid products that use plastics with recycling symbols 3, 6, and 7. While number 1 is considered safe, it’s best to avoid.
- Look for plastics with symbols 2, 4, and 5, as these are considered to be the safest (especially around food and beverages).
For more information on each plastic type, check out naturalsociety.com.
We can all make better choices when it comes to the products we purchase (and recycle) — let’s treat every day like it’s Earth Day!
Blog Post Updated April 29, 2021