Backyard decks are often constructed using pressure treated wood, a process that injects chemicals into soft woods, making them suitable for outdoor use and resistant to termites and rot. While safer preservatives have replaced toxic arsenic and creosote, wood treated with chemicals cannot be recycled or burned. There may not be a perfect decking product, but there are better options - find out more after the jump!
The recurring theme with outdoor products seems to be that in order for them to stand up to the elements, they are inherently non-sustainable. While there may not be any win-win products currently on the market, these alternatives are a huge leap forward from pressure treated wood.
1. Tropical Hardwoods: Tropical hardwoods like ipe and tigerwood win my vote for the best looking decking. More resistant to decay and termites than some redwoods and cedars, these species are incredibly dense and durable. The downside is that these materials typically travel further to reach the U.S. and concern over rainforest deforestation is a real issue, making it even more important to purchase tropical hardwoods that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
2. Redwood and Western Red Cedar: Redwood and cedar are naturally resistant to insects and rot, making it a great option for outdoor decks. Unlike tropical hardwoods, these species are often harvested in North America, reducing transportation costs (look for options that are FSC-certified).
3. Reclaimed Wood: Reclaimed wood is typically recycled from old barn structures, railroad trestles and "sinker" logs from the days of river-based log drives. Not only does it prevent deforestation, but reclaimed wood is usually from old growth trees, making it stronger and more stable than new wood.
4. Composite Decking: This type of decking is often made from a combination of wood and plastic and depending on the manufacturer can include everything from recycled wood fibers, bamboo, rice hulls, HDPE and PVC. The appeal of composite decking is its durability and low-maintenance, but while it is usually made from recycled content, composite products cannot be further recycled and ultimately end up in the landfill. (According to some sources, it also takes an incredible amount of energy to manufacture the products.)
(Images: 1. Landscaping Network, 2. Real Cedar, 3. Old Globe Wood, 4. Bamboo Hardwoods)