How Green Really is Timber ?

Not such a strange question. We don’t mean green the colour, of course, but the ecological impact using timber has compared with the other materials available. Debates are raging on the damage we do to the planet with the things we do – air travel, “fast” fashion, cars and a host of other things have all been debated, criticised and demonstrated against.

We won’t go into the debate about whether playground construction is really necessary for the good of mankind (we think it is for obvious reasons). So the real question is how we can provide equipment which is good for childhood development but with a minimum carbon footprint. Please see our other blogs on the reasons why outdoor play equipment is such a benefit for growing children.

Essentially, if you are starting from scratch then there are three main choices of material;

Wood

Steel

Plastic

and of course, a combination of all of them.

Now plastic has had a lot of bad press recently, but for some uses it is unbeatable. For example we use plastic on our swings, slides, coloured play panels and much else besides. There are also some playground suppliers who use plastic in their frame construction. Is that a no no – or is it a positive if they are using reclaimed and recycled plastic ? We are not experts so won’t be drawn into that debate.

Steel has always been a traditional favourite for playground construction. Its strong, long lasting, versatile in the shape and design and easily sourced and worked with the right equipment. There is a significant carbon footprint attached to its mining and smelting, however.

Wood comes from trees, usually grown in managed forests. Trees, as we know, are a carbon trap. They absord CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow but, at the end of their life, they return that CO2 to the air when they are burnt or rot. So timber itself is pretty well carbon neutral. The harvesting and replanting of timber stocks has also a relatively low carbon footprint, although to use wood for playgrounds (or outdoor furniture etc) it will need a couple more processes: kiln drying and treatment to help stop rot.

The other issue is the lifetime of these materials, and what happens to them at the end of their useful lives. Plastic has a decent lifetime, but will degrade under ultra violet light over time, lose its colour and become brittle and liable to break. And then disposal presents a problem unless or until our recyling systems have improved. Steel will rust (but not Stainless Steel) , although good maintenance and painting will extend the life significantly. There is also a good network of scrappage to re-use old steel so its disposal is not a big problem.

Wood will rot eventually. Good preservatives will extend the life out to 15 – 20 years + (depending on location) but it will rot. Then the likely outcome is for it to be burnt. The CO2 will then of course be returned to the atmosphere but this has the advantage of a secondary use – heating homes, offices, factories etc. So its not a wasted resource. The key element here is the management of the forests and the necessity of not only replacing the trees that are harvested but adding to them, so the overall timber stock increases. The timber we use comes from properly managed forests; this is completely different to the deforestation which is occuring across large parts of the world where crucial rain forest is being cut down to make way for farmland or palm oil plantations.

So that’s why we use timber.

We need to be realistic and use some plastics (see above) and of course steel for fixings etc. But we are going to stick with timber for our constructions.  Bcause we also like the natural look and feel wood gives you. And we hope you do too.

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