A company called Trex manufactures eco-friendly decking; in fact they claim to have "invented the category" in 1996. And thankfully for the environment, their product has unwanted plastic bags and films as a key ingredient.
Trex's composite deck boards are made largely from waste products--sawdust and plastic--and are 95% recycled. "By using reclaimed sawdust, we never have to cut down a tree to make our products. Ever," the company writes.
As for the plastic bags, a standard 16-foot Trex board will suck up 2,250 of them from a variety of sources. "The reclaimed wood in our decks is combined with recycled plastic film from a variety of sources ranging from the overwrap on paper towels to dry cleaner bags, sandwich bags, newspaper sleeves, and grocery and shopping bags. Here's an interesting fact: the average 500-square foot composite Trex deck contains 140,000 recycled plastic bags! That makes us one of the largest plastic bag recyclers in the U.S."
To source the plastic, the company has set up a nationwide recycling program whereby communities and schools can sign up to have their collected materials sent to Trex.
Additionally, the company has set up recycling stations across the country (full list here) at places like Home Depot, Kohl's, Wegmans, Whole Foods and other chains. And if you're a business that generates a lot of plastic waste, Trex will pay to take it off of your hands.
As for the advantages of their product over pressure-treated lumber: Trex's boards won't warp, crack, rot, splinter or split; they resist termites, mold, mildew and fading; and they can easily be cleaned with soap and water. They cost more than pressure-treated wood up front, but a savings is generated (and headaches avoided) with decreased maintenance needs over the years.
Perhaps most importantly, the company has figured out how to turn an unwanted material, of which there is no shortage, into a useful product that people want to buy. And they've been killing it during the pandemic: With everyone stuck at home and looking to improve their houses, Trex's sales went up 18% in 2020. Others could learn from their example.