Not all recycled food and beverage containers are recycled into traditional products like new containers. Case in point: The New Jersey Pine Barrens features a 56-foot-long bridge built completely from recycled plastic. Constructed by Axion International, the bridge can support 36 tons and has an anticipated lifespan of 40 years.
Plastic lumber is actually one of the more common products created from recycled PET, the material used for most plastic bottles. Axion was able to mold discarded plastic into beams that are flexible, lighter than wood lumber and require fewer fasteners to build structures.
Axion is currently building bridges for the U.S. Army, as the Army needs structures capable of supporting at least 70 tons, and current wood bridges provide only 6-ton support. Axion built its first Army bridge in 1998, which according to Army representatives “has had virtually no maintenance and still looked like new after nine years.”
Plastic is not the only recycled material that can be used in construction. Glass bottles and cardboard can also provide a sturdy, yet sustainable, design. In addition, most of the world’s steel is actually recycled content, and steel is among the most popular building materials.
One of the primary benefits in building with recycled content is that it significantly reduces the ecological footprint during construction. Energy use is typically much less in manufacturing a recycled material, and in the case of plastic, a disposable bottle can be molded into a beam that supports cars and people for 40 years.