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How a Milk Jug Becomes an Adirondack Chair

In celebration of Earth Day, we’re giving you an inside look at how we take everyday waste and turn it into beautiful outdoor furniture.


A Little History

Since the 1950s, the mass production of disposable plastic has rapidly increased. Unfortunately, plastic is extremely slow to degrade — scientists still don’t know exactly how long plastics will exist after they end up in a landfill. Yikes!

While we as consumers can make a difference by recycling our plastics, it’s important to know which plastics can and cannot be reused (a little more on that later).

Landfill

At Poly-Wood we recycle high-density polyethylene, an extremely durable type of plastic you’ll find all around your home: milk jugs, detergent containers, shampoo bottles, lotion bottles, cleaner spray bottles, etc. The best part of high-density polyethylene (HDPE for short) is that it can actually be infinitely recycled. Yes, infinitely.

If all of those empty HDPE containers in our lives make it into the recycling bin they’ll have a chance to become something new — and, they might just travel to a little town called Syracuse, IN to become an Adirondack chair.


Our Recycling Process

First, milk jugs arrive at our recycling plant bundled in large bales.

POLYWOOD_MilkJugs


The flattened milk jugs are sent up a conveyor to a giant shredder to be pre-shredded.

MilkJugsConveyor

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Next, the shredded milk jug flakes are pre-washed and any heavy materials that might have gotten mixed in (glass, rocks, etc.) are removed.

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The cleaned and sorted material is then finely ground into a 1/2″ flake and sent to a float tank where any other non-plastic items will sink out of the mix. The flakes are then dried and air separated.

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Next, our color sorter will remove any colored plastics we don’t want mixing into the final product. Once sorted, the resulting good material travels up another conveyor to be pelletized.

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The final product, shown below, is loads of clear pellets that are ready to be made into genuine POLYWOOD® lumber!

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Making Genuine POLYWOOD® Lumber

The recycled pellets are transported next door to the Extrusion Dept. by an efficiently designed series of tubes from one building to the next. All pellets are stored in silos outside the building and then sucked in through more tubes that run right to our extrusion lines.

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Tubing that runs from the Recycling Bldg. over to the silos outside of the Extrusion Dept.
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Our silos that store recycled milk jug pellets waiting to become POLYWOOD lumber.

While we can’t divulge every step of the process, we take our recycled pellets, add colorant, along with other additives (to ensure beautiful long lasting color), and then extrude the mixture to the size and shape of the lumber we need (similar to when you “extruded” play-doh as a kid!)

PlayDoh-Extrusion

In a day, we extrude about 48–55,000 lbs of lumber. That equals about 57–60,000 lbs of recycled milk jugs — and that’s just in one day!

POLYWOOD-Lumber


Constructing POLYWOOD Furniture

On the last leg of its journey, our recycled lumber makes its way to our production cells where Builders construct POLYWOOD Furniture.

Poly-Wood-Production

Vibrant-POLYWOOD-Lumber

Building-POLYWOOD-Furniture

Remember we mentioned that HDPE is infinitely recyclable? After our furniture is made, any scrap lumber pieces, shavings, etc. from manufacturing go right back to our recycling plant to be reground, sent to extrusion, made into lumber, and, well, you know the rest.

Zero waste, pretty cool right?

Scrap-Lumber

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Plastics by the Numbers

While HDPE plastics are easily recycled, some plastics are not accepted by most curbside recycling programs (pickup availability will vary depending on your location). Below is cheat sheet on the seven plastic codes so you can brush up on your recycling knowledge.

Plastic Recycling Chart

A few tips:

  • Avoid products that use plastics with recycling symbols 3, 6, and 7. While Number 1 is considered safe, it’s best to avoid.
  • Look for plastics with symbols 2, 4, and 5, as these are considered to be the safest (especially around food and beverages).

For more information on each plastic type, check out naturalsociety.com.

We can all make better choices when it comes to the products we purchase (and recycle) — let’s treat every day like it’s Earth Day!

11 thoughts on “How a Milk Jug Becomes an Adirondack Chair

  1. Great informative information! Have you guys ever considered making porch and deck railings/balusters/columns? My personal experience is the wood solutions rot over time and require painting maintenance to keep things looking good. Using your material seems like it would be a once and done scenario? I am redoing a porch this summer and will incorporate your rocking chairs and some tables to “fix” that part of the project : )

    Thanks for what you do.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jonathan!

      There are definitely companies out there who use a similar all-weather material for decking solutions, but we’ve stuck to furniture.

  2. I love your products! We have six bar stools in mahogany and they are perfect for our bar in the kitchen. We have a cat sanctuary and would love to have some cat trees made that same material. Do you make such an item, if not would you consider doing so?
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Debbi,

      As a cat person myself, I LOVE that idea! But, we’ve decided to stick to outdoor furniture for now. If you’re feeling up to it (or know someone who could build one) you can purchase a similar all-weather material from the following suppliers:

      We don’t currently sell PW lumber, but you can purchase a similar material from these suppliers:

      Allied Plastic Lumber in CA – 916-469-8639
      http://www.alliedplasticlumber.com

      Plastic Lumber Yard in PA – 610-277-3900
      http://www.plasticlumberyard.com

  3. Can you show us a “declassified picture” of a plank being extruded? Pleeeeease? My inner nerd wants to see it! Thanks for this writeup!

    1. Hi Dave,

      Well…you can see a bit of the process in our brand video at the 20 sec mark. Hopefully that satisfies your inner nerd!

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