Eco-Friendly Fencing: Which Option Is Best for the Earth?

young girl dragging stick along wooden fence
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Installing or replacing a fence is a major undertaking. Fortunately, it’s one most homeowners don’t have to take on very often. When that fateful day arrives, however, you may want to consider the environmental impact of the fence you select. Wood and metal used to be the only available options, but today you have a variety of eco-friendly selections from which to choose.

While focusing on the fencing materials, don’t forget to consider the environmental impact of producing the fence, the maintenance necessary to extend the life of the fence, the chemicals the fence may potentially leach into the soil, the use of renewable resources, and how to dispose of the when it’s no longer usable.

Let’s review some of the pros and cons of common fencing materials.

Traditional Fencing Options

Among the most commonly used fencing materials are wood, stone, and metal.

Wood Fencing

Wood fencing is likely one of the oldest types of fencing around. Used for centuries to pen in livestock, define property lines, and keep out looters, wood fencing is a sound option for enclosing your yard. The main environmental issue with most modern wood fences is the chemicals that are often used to treat the wood to extend the life of the fence.

Wood fencing also needs regular maintenance; most experts recommend applying sealant every 3 to 5 years and those chemicals will eventually work into the soil. If you choose to go with wood fencing, consider using sustainably harvested or reclaimed wood from suppliers like Centennial Woods. You can also search old salvage shops to locate reclaimed wood to use in your fencing.

brushing sealant on wooden fence

Wooden fences are often treated with chemicals to extend the life of the fence. Image by artursfoto at pixabay.com

Stone Fencing

Like wood, stone fencing has been around for a very long time. While it definitely lasts substantially longer than wood and requires less upkeep, stone fencing can be time-consuming to build and very costly. Quarrying stone also has a significant environmental impact. If you have your heart set on a stone fence, try to find a local supplier so that you aren’t shipping heavy loads of stone across the country.

Metal Fencing

Metal fencing comes in all shapes and sizes, from your schoolyard chain-link fence to intricately detailed wrought iron fences. Although long lasting and low maintenance, the two biggest downsides to metal fencing are 1) it takes a significant amount of energy resources to produce, and 2) there’s a good chance the metal you use for your fence is going to be shipped long distances to your home.

On the positive side, metal fencing will generally last a very long time, and when you replace it, the metal can be recycled easily. In fact, metal fencing is probably the best fencing option for recycling. In addition, most wrought iron fences can be sandblasted, painted, and reused. If you’d like to go with a metal fence, consider looking at local salvage shops as you may be able to find some good reusable options.

close-up detail of wrought iron fence

Metal fences are generally long-lasting and the metal can be recycled when the fence is replaced. Photo by stevepb at pixabay.com

Eco-Friendly Fencing Options

While we’ve already touched on a few ways to make traditional fencing a bit more eco-friendly, you might want to consider these more sustainable options.

Living Fence

A living fence is probably the most eco-friendly option available. Typically, a living fence is made up of a dense hedge, also known as a hedgerow. This type of fence can provide privacy and security just like a traditional fence with the added benefit of providing habitat for insects, amphibians, birds, and other critters. While these fences do require regular watering and trimming, they won’t ever take up space in a landfill since they can simply be composted should you eventually decide to replace them. One downside to a living fence is it may not be the most effective at keeping pets confined.

Another fence alternative is bamboo fencing. Bamboo is considered by most to be a sustainable material given its rapid rate of growth. Among many ways to use bamboo as fencing, consider a living fence with the bamboo contained in pots or other containers. Or you can integrate it with other woods to create unique designs. Cali Bamboo is one company that sells this type of easy-to-install bamboo fencing.

bamboo fence

Bamboo fence. Image by MabelAmber at pixabay.jpg

Alternative Materials

A variety of fence brands focus on creating more sustainable fencing.

Trex sells fencing that’s composed of 96 percent recycled wood and plastic: a combination of reclaimed wood, sawdust, and recycled plastic bags. While this fencing can be a great, long-lasting option, the primary downside is that there is currently no way to recycle this composite-materials fencing, which means it will need to be thrown away if it starts to fall apart.

Similar to Trex, Freeman Fence makes a bio composite fencing that’s made of recycled plastic and wheat straw. This fencing looks like natural wood fencing but requires little to no maintenance.

Whatever type of fence you choose, take a minute to consider its environmental impact. Think about its production, estimated lifespan, necessary maintenance, and disposal options and choose the option that best meets your needs.

Feature image by Pezibear at pixabay.com

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Brian Brassaw

Brian Brassaw

Brian formerly managed the Earth911 Recycling Search and shared green living tips and tricks on Earth911’s Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter accounts. Brian also shares DIY projects on Little Pilots Lounge.
Brian Brassaw