Can Recycled Plastic be Used as Building Material?

An image with the left half comprising a photograph of plastic bottle tops of various colors jumbled together with a green recycling symbol overlain. On the right half of the image is a photograph of a construction worker wearing an orange tabard, orange hardhat and yellow gloves, smiling and giving a thumbs up. Along the bottom of the image are the words "Can Recycled Plastic be Used as Building Material?"

Besides their impact on marine and terrestrial environments, plastics are responsible for 3.4% of greenhouse gas emissions.

With landfills overflowing and ocean pollution reaching catastrophic levels, it’s clear that we need to find ways to deal with plastic waste.

One promising solution gaining traction is using recycled plastic as a building material.

However, the question remains, “Can recycled plastic be used as building material?

Recycled plastics can be used as a building material because they preserve their required mechanical properties necessary for construction. Moreover, recycled plastics have a longer lifespan, making them ideal sustainable building materials for structures intended for long-term use.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss why recycled plastic can be used as a building material.

I’ll also give examples of where recycled plastics can be used in construction. From these examples, you’ll better understand the potential of this building material.

Let’s get started!

Reasons Recycled Plastics Can Be Used in Construction

Recycled plastic styrofoam insulation being installed on an external wall against a layer of OSB. Below the OSB and insulation are layers of blockwork.
Recycled plastic styrofoam can provide much-needed insulation for buildings to reduce HVAC bills.

We know that not all materials can be used in construction. Suitable construction materials must have features that make a durable, strong, energy-efficient, and safe structure.

So, how do recycled plastics fare when these criteria are considered?

  • Incredible tensile strength: Tensile strength is crucial in building materials. Materials used as structural elements must have a high tensile strength to resist forces applied to them. Recycled plastics have an impressive tensile strength that makes them suitable for building. For instance, Polyamide-imide (PAI) has the highest tensile strength among plastics at 28,000 psi.
  • Corrosion resistance: One of the most common concerns in building materials is corrosion. Corroded materials are weakened and unable to fulfill their structural requirements. Fortunately, recycled plastics are highly resistant to corrosion and other environmental conditions. That means they can be used in outdoor structures without concern for rusting or weakening.
  • Lightweight: Weight is a major consideration when it comes to construction materials. Heavier building materials can weaken the foundation by adding more load. Recycled plastics are lightweight but strong, making them the perfect choice for structures that need to be durable and energy efficient.
  • Thermal insulation: An important feature of construction materials is thermal insulation. Materials used in construction must have good thermal properties, meaning they should minimize the transmission of heat through the fabric of a building. Recycled plastics have high thermal insulation that helps keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer.

The following are examples of how recycled plastic is used in buildings:

Fortifying Concrete

Concrete is an excellent construction material thanks to its durability, versatility, and strength. Anything that can fortify and make concrete stronger is welcome.

According to a study by MIT students, mixing irradiated plastic with fly ash and cement generates concrete that’s 15 percent stronger than traditional concrete. This recycled plastic concrete has the potential to revolutionize construction by creating more durable structures.

Deck Boards and Railings

Recycled plastic deck with brown wood-effect boards and white railings outside a wooden house.
Recycled plastic decking boards and railing come in “wood-effect” styles that almost look as good as the real thing but require much less maintenance.

Recycled plastic deck boards and railings can be used for any outdoor structure, from decks to patios and balconies. These materials are lightweight and resistant to moisture, mildew, rot, insects, and splintering.

Plastic’s ability to resist corrosion when exposed to the elements makes it the perfect material for outdoor structures that need to last a long time.

Interior Finishings

Recycled plastic is also used in interior finishings, such as wall panels and flooring. Plastic-based materials are non-porous and won’t absorb dirt or moisture like wood or other building materials can.

These materials are also highly resistant to scratching and staining, making them ideal for finishing areas with high foot traffic.

Roofing Tiles

Multi-colored recycled plastic roofing tiles. The tiles are arranged in groups to form vertical stripes of color on the roof. There is yellow, green, blue, and red going from left to right. The tiles are overlapping and have ridges that run vertically up and down the roof. The tiles are held in position by metal screws.
Recycled plastic roofing tiles are available in many bright colors, which can really bring some visual interest to any home.

An excellent feature of sustainable roofing material is that it must be lightweight to reduce excessive energy consumption during installation. This is a big reason recycled plastic is great for making roofing tiles.

Roofing tiles made from recycled plastic are light, durable, and energy-efficient, making them suitable for any building that needs a sustainable roof.

You don’t need heavy lifting equipment that uses a lot of energy to raise these tiles and install them.

Moreover, other undeniable benefits of plastic roofs include the following:

  • Lower carbon footprint
  • Cost-effective
  • Highly weather-resistant


A home with sufficient insulation will help you save on the cost of heating and cooling.

Recycled plastic is a good choice for insulation because it has high resistance to heat flow.

With an R-value of at least R-1.25 per inch, recycled plastic has better insulation capabilities for an optimum room temperature. Consequently, homes with recycled plastic insulation will consume less energy for heating and cooling.

Plastic Building Bricks

A man working on a wall of multicolored, recycled plastic bricks.
The recycled plastic brick developed by a team in the Netherlands can be used worldwide for washing facilities and homeless shelters. Image credit: Recycle Rebuild open-source: recycled brick.

It’s common to come across concrete and earthen bricks in construction.

However, an arguably more sustainable option is to use plastic building bricks made from recycled plastic waste.

Although plastic building bricks are lightweight, they are strong enough to be used in many structures. Moreover, they require less energy for production than traditional building blocks, making them an environmentally friendly choice.

Due to their superior insulation capabilities, these bricks can help reduce energy costs.

More construction companies are embracing plastic building bricks because they are much cheaper than conventional materials. As a result, they help these companies’ clients save money, both upfront and in the long run.


A white recycled plastic panelled fence with conical post caps. There is a green lawn in the foreground and occasional shrubs planted along the base of the fence.
Recycled plastic fences can look just as good as, if not better than, wooden fences. This is especially true after a few years because plastic doesn’t weather as badly as wood and requires much less maintenance.

Fences are essential since they help contain pets and children within a home’s outdoor space. They also help secure a home by deterring intruders.

Excellent fencing material must be sturdy and withstand many years of sun and rain.

Recycled plastic makes for a great choice for fences due to its resistance to weathering.

Additionally, recycled plastic is lightweight and can be made into different shapes and colors to suit the style of any home.

These qualities make it an ideal material for creating aesthetically pleasing and secure fences.

An added advantage is that fences made with recycled plastic require less maintenance because this material is resistant to rot and corrosion.

So, Can Recycled Plastic be Used as Building Material?

The question of whether recycled plastic can be used as a building material has been debated for years, often on aesthetic grounds.

However, growing evidence suggests that recycled plastic is a viable and sustainable option for construction, which also looks pretty good thanks to modern manufacturing techniques.

Reducing waste and utilizing recycled plastic can create a more environmentally-friendly world with durable structures that remain fit for purpose for many decades.

As technology continues to improve and sustainable construction awareness grows, recycled plastic will play an increasingly important role in the construction industry.

Did you know you can build a cost-effective house using straw bales? Here is the cost of a straw bale house.

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