landscape with tree covered plastic bagsTrying to be a conscientious consumer can be difficult, especially when we’re always dragging misconceptions from the past behind us. When it comes to wood versus plastic, most of us had our ethical compasses set in the ‘80s, when the answer to the “paper or plastic” question at the grocery store was emphatically plastic! We all thought that by choosing against paper bags, we’d end up saving a few trees.


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 that by choosing plastic we were actually polluting the world to such a degree that ocean life now swims in a soup of plastic particles.

In figuring out how to deal with this runaway level of 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 our plastic mess, studies have shown that when it comes to carbon footprints and the fight against global warming, lumber beats plastic, even recycled plastic. Efficient, fast-growing species like the Southern Yellow Pines produce sustainable woods that put plastic to shame.

Truth in the Numbers

From potential for acid rain, to respiratory effects and overall energy usage, “plastic wood” and 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, whole woods 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 best choice for the environment.

Lumber as an Alternative

lumber at a sawmillArmed with this information, many in the construction industry are turning to lumber as an alternative to plastics and other industrial building materials, even going so far as to build skyscrapers from trees. The Timber Tower Research Project is seeking to capitalize on timber’s function as a carbon sink to replace cement and other carbon-heavy materials in tall building construction. The US Department of Agriculture has even approved a $2 million competition for tall-wood construction in an effort to explore the possibilities for building with wood in urban areas.

Taken as a whole, the choice for contractors and homeowners looking for an environmentally sustainable tool in the fight against global warming is clear, and it points directly to Southern Yellow Pine and the lumber industry.


(Images via ThinkStock, via Shutterstock, via Wood. It’s Real.)

  • Gary

    Yep the plastic bags need to go and the 2 liter drink bottles need to be all turned into longlasting building materials while an alternative is found. If you don’t think the plastic bags are a problem go to the landfill on a windy day or an ocean or a lake. In addition stop buying the toothpaste with the little plastic glitter. It goes into lakes and streams that lead to the ocean and it can’t be removed and clogs animals systems like gills etc. The plastic glitter is ubiquitous and floats even in the oceans in measurable amounts.

  • Ironbar

    I’m not sure if this is real or some more Koch Brothers bull-crap but it sure sounds good. Sure going to look into this more.

  • rsdfwd

    Fine, except that there is no global warming cause by man.

  • Poppy

    Every human being radiates, on average, 600 BTU per hour or 5,256,000 BTU per year in body heat alone. We are a chemical factory producing heat. That means 6 billion humans are contributing 31536 TRILLION BTU per year without lighting a single fire for heat, manufacturing, transportation, clear cutting of forests and hundreds of other heat producing (and carbon dioxide producing) activities of humans.

    The increasing carbon dioxide levels act like a thermal blanket, retaining the heat and warming the planet’s atmosphere. The Sun has a greater heating effect but it is offset by “night and day” and heat emissions into space as always. The carbon dioxide and increasing world population is putting pressure on the planet’s heat absorption vs heat dissipation balance.

    It would be convenient to blame the CO2 blanket on some natural phenomena that we cannot control but that is not the case. Humans are causing it. Just like not taking out the garbage will have an eventual negative effect on our quality of life, not dealing with world wide pollution and population will also have a negative effect which can be seen in accumulations of floating ocean trash, melting glaciers, increasing global average temperature, changes in rainfall causing flood and drought, widespread crop failures. natural resource depletion, increasing insect populations, rising ocean waters on shores in Florida, Bangladesh and other low lying areas in the world.

    We were given “dominion” over the planet, much like a parent giving responsibility over the backyard to the children. Shall we let some of the children run amok and spoil the backyard for everyone or should we control the activities to the benefit of everyone over the complaints and refusal of the self-centered spoiled brats that know nothing other than what they want to do without regard for others?

    So we no longer burn trash in a barrel in our back yards and we no longer burn our leaves, branches and shrub trimmings. Then we found it necessary to clean up local manufacturing and car emissions to improve urban air quality. Now we need to think globally on the long term effects of what we do nationally, along with other nations who also recognize a global responsibility. Its common sense and is all about the science which only becomes political when we make it political. Unfortunately, we will not find scientific solutions to global changes in political maneuvering and only delay and worsen the inevitable.

    A stitch in time saves nine.