Winners and losers: High lumber prices, tariffs on Canadian softwood a boon for plastics
Clare Goldsberry
Recycling, Building & Construction
August 21, 2018

With more wildfires consuming forests in the western United States, U.S. lumber soon
could be in short supply. Some trees are being harvested after the burn—while they may
be charred on the outside there is still valuable lumber to be harvested from the tree after
the char is removed. But will that be enough to satisfy homebuilders and remodelers?
Canada is the largest supplier of softwood, and the tariffs are putting pressure on
builders, some of whom have had to absorb higher costs.

Maybe it’s time to consider plastics’ role in construction. While plastics have been
increasing in those applications over the past couple of decades, there is room for more
growth as a market for recycled plastics.

For home remodelers who are building decks, railing and fencing, wood-plastic
composites (WPC) and plastic lumber are a good choice. When the materials’ benefits
are taken into consideration, such as weather, insect and rot resistance and a useful life
of about 25 years with little to no maintenance, plastic lumber and WPCs can be very
cost effective.

Polyethylene (PE)-based decking runs approximately $7.82 per square foot, and
polypropylene-based decking is about $8.68 per square foot. That’s compared to
California redwood at $7.75 per square foot. There are cheaper wood materials such as
cedar and even pressure-treated (PT) lumber, but both require maintenance and have
shorter lifespans. PT lumber contains harmful chemicals—although some of the worst
ones have been replaced since 2003—and it is recommended that a good coat of sealant
be used on these types of decks.  

With all the talk about improving recycling rates and giving plastic waste a longer useful
life, it would seem that plastic lumber and WPCs are a good solution to increasingly
higher lumber prices.