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Is IPE Greener Than Composite Decking?
A Snapshot of Rebuilding After Hurricane Sandy
As rebuilding of so many miles of boardwalk has started, so did the debate about whether to use composite decking or Ipe. The truth of the matter is that no material is perfect. In many instances, the debate was not based on science and research but rather on emotion and assumptions.
Many activists protested local municipalities who proposed rebuilding with Ipe, arguing that the use of this wood was causing deforestation in developing countries. This is just not so. Another popular argument was that composite decking is more environmentally friendly because it is from recycled materials. While this is in fact true, that statement does not tell the whole story.
USING WOODS LIKE IPE HELPS DEVELOPING NATIONS.
Imagine living off of the land in the area where you were born. You’re a farmer but the soil can be fickle and often you have to clear trees from new tracts of land by burning them to plant crops in a new area. Thankfully, this is not the only choice for many now. With markets developed for wood species such as Ipe, these same lands can support sustainable forestry. These communities now have the choice to cut some of the trees on the land, but in a way that continues to keep forests intact while offering an alternative source of income. Strong markets for wood products have helped to preserve forests in developing nations, not take them down.
Non-Governmental Organizations have developed several certification schemes that allow producers to prove that harvesting is carried out in a sustainable manner.
RECYCLED DOESN'T MEAN NO ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT.
No life cycle analysis has ever been completed specifically comparing Ipe decking to composite decking. When an analysis was completed in 2012 looking at the environmental impacts of composite decking for the entire time of use, the picture was not as perfect as some would have you believe.
Yes, composite decking is made out of recycled materials. This makes it seem like an environmentally friendly product. This decking product is made out of recycled plastic shopping bags, wood mill waste and old pallets, which is pretty neat. The problem with composite decking is that all of the environmentally friendly aspects are concentrated in material sourcing. Once you factor in the high environmental impacts of the fossil fuels required to manufacture composite decking, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, the overall impact of composite decking products is much higher than its supporters would have you to believe.
NOTE: The research cited can be viewed at: http://www.vhn.org/pdf/LCA-ACQ-terras.pdf