Already known for creating recycled plastic composite bridges that can support military tanks and trains, Axion International, headquartered in New Providence, New Jersey, has turned to smaller projects: a pedestrian bridge in Fort Lee, Va. Similar to the company’s larger bridges, but on a smaller scale, the pedestrian bridge was built in a factory and shipped whole to the site, where it was dropped into place.

For its recycled structural composite, Axion collects post-consumer plastics, mostly high-density polyethylene (HDPE), combines them in a proprietary mixture, heats then extrudes them into structural forms such as I-beams, marine pilings and railroad ties. Accelerated aging tests have indicated that the material is not subject to degradation from moisture or other environmental elements, and Axion CEO and founder James Kerstein notes that it is fully recyclable into more lumber at the end of its life in the field.

This is not the first recycled plastic lumber on the market, but it is the first that can hold significant structural loads. A team of scientists at Rutgers University helped develop the material, which resists creep, or the long-term deformation of the material under heavy loads. According to Thomas Nosker, preliminary investigator at Rutgers, Axion’s material is creep-resistant up to 600 pounds per square inch (straight HDPE creeps at 60 pounds per square inch.)

According to Kerstein, only about 30 percent of plastics made in this country are collected for recycling, and only about half of what’s collected gets recycled and Kerstein wanted to find a way to expand recycling opportunities while improving plastic lumber. “If we use these materials in something useful, that’s combating planned obsolescence,” he said. “We get a 50-year life out of these materials.”

What really sets Axion’s material apart, however, is the cost. According to Nosker, no other manufacturers provide the structural integrity and environmental performance that Axion does at a cost that rivals treated wood. This cost advantage is part of what drew the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when it started researching plastic lumber for permanent installations on its bases.