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Sustainability in the market place has become increasingly popular in the last several years; phrases such as “eco-friendly” and “certified green products” are advertised on store shelves and web sites when describing ingredients or the source of a material used. Respecting Mother Nature has now become a way of life for many consumers and manufacturers of products sold throughout various industries. This article will focus on how the waterfront marine construction industry is participating in “going green” by using recycled materials in decking, sourcing from sustainable supply chains based in our own country, and using products that do not harm the marine environment or pollute the waters in which we build.

Composite decking is becoming a popular choice for docks in our area. In general, it is typically made using recycled wood, vinyl or plastic. Low maintenance once the dock is installed and a large selection of color choices are usually the reasons waterfront homeowners give when switching from a traditional wood dock. Composites tend not to fade and maintain their color for several years, even under our intense South Florida sun. These products do not need to be painted, sealed or stained and are easily power washed for general cleaning. Safety is also an additional reason the composite products are gaining popularity. It is splinter free and cool on the feet, which makes sense for outdoor activities on the boat dock or around the pool. The recycled wood is often gathered from locally sourced reclaimed trees that would otherwise be taken to a landfill. The sawdust is mixed with recycled plastic to form a very sturdy and durable product. The two most popular decking products in the marine industry tend to be the collect-ions of Trex or Azek. Both manufacturers offer various levels of color and design in their deck boards. Each is also implementing sustainable business practices in order to reduce the environmental impact across their supply chains. Recycled plastic bags are now being used as one of the source materials in the composite decking at Trex, allowing large amounts of post-consumer plastic to be reintroduced into the market! 

Vinyl Deck
PVC Dock

Vinyl decking is a polyvinylchloride, known more simply as PVC. It is 100% recyclable and insect resistant. Similar to the composite lines of decking, a PVC product does not require staining or sealing throughout the years.  Although many colors are available in PVC product collections, the “grain” of wood is not easy to achieve and the vinyl often times appears artificial for a consumer wanting to duplicate more of a nautical authentic wood look for a boating dock. Any mildew or mold can easily be washed off of vinyl, and light colors tend to be comfortable on bare feet. Installation often involves tracks with tongue and groove fittings that slide into place, unlike traditional docks which require a greater amount of stainless steel hardware to fasten the deck boards. The option for vinyl also exists for dock accessories such as railings or posts around the perimeter of the surface.

With all the above positive attributes of recyclable materials, let’s discuss the most unfavorable argument against them: cost of the project. There is no doubt that the per square foot cost to install and purchase a composite or PVC dock will be more than a traditional pressure treated wood dock. Consumers tend to balance their long-range plans to remain in the property and also the realistic size of the project in order to make the decision when budget is a concern. Possibly a smaller dock built out of an “eco-friendly” material will do just fine and be the better bargain over several years when compared with the cost of a larger traditional wood dock that will need annual maintenance with sealing or staining products for upkeep. Part-time and seasonal homeowners may also factor in their time and enjoyment of the structure when calculating a cost comparison between wood and alternative decking products. Composite decking is resistant to mildew; therefore, replacing rotten boards is not a concern and safety issues regarding collapses of decking tend to be lowered.

In the instance that the decision to use wood material for dock or deck building is made, there is still opportunity to choose products with the marine environment in mind. More care must be taken when using cleaning or staining products around water; these are typically advertised as suitable for “clean” or “green” marinas and mean they are specifically manufactured with the knowledge that drips and overage will be falling into the waterway.

Defy Marine Seal Dock Cleaner or WoodRx Dock Stain are examples of products tested thoroughly and comply with standards imposed by the EPA to certify as eco-friendly in a marine environment. They are biodegradable and do not contain chlorine bleach. Both offer mildew and UV resistance and will not harm plant or marine life if excess comes into contact with the water. It is always best to consult with the marine contractor applying the product, however, to determine the cover-age, appropriate time to apply the product after initial installation and any color changes that may occur.

Sustainable practices and choosing sustainable products may take a little extra effort with so much information available since the “green movement” has become more prevalent in marketing, but seeing the natural beauty surrounding the finished project reminds us often of the sources that actually go into making the product. Manufacturers realize this and work hard to inform the public of the strides they are making in transforming the way business practices and production are now being influenced by environmental concerns. Ultimately, however, it’s up to the end user and consumer to weigh the choices available on the market and determine what percentage of their income, time and product usability warrants the effort needed to go green!

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