Applications abound for recycled composite materials, as innovative firms save products from landfills and solve clients’ challenges.

Composites firms with “green” products and services are doing their part to help the planet, but they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if those solutions didn’t also solve problems for their clients.

Logan County, Ohio, had a big one – its simple-span vehicular bridge over an area called Onion Ditch was declared obsolete by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The bridge needed to be replaced, and county officials met to consider options.

The county’s dilemma was critical: the bridge is important to residents of West Liberty, Ohio, and maintaining safe infrastructure is important to county engineers. That kind of dilemma is widespread. In 2011, the FHWA reported 143,889 U.S. bridges as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Across the country, local officials and state departments of transportation are trying to figure out how to handle a big problem with their shrinking budgets.

The Logan County Engineer’s Office needed money and a partner with high-quality, long-lasting materials. It received the first, thanks to the FHWA’s Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment Program, which makes funding available to state departments of transportation. It found the second, thanks to a conversation with an innovative composites company.

AXION International Inc., an 11-person firm based in New Providence, N.J., specializes in providing a green cure for the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It produces Struxture, a line of lightweight but heavy-duty structural beams made from recycled plastic, and Ecotrax, a similar line for railroad tie applications. The firm’s patented process (see “How One Company Does It” on p. XX), developed in conjunction with scientists at Rutgers University, transforms recycled consumer and industrial plastics into structural products that replace traditional materials made from wood, steel or concrete.

Launched in 2007, AXION developed a process to make a building material from discarded laundry detergent containers and milk cartons that is strong enough to supplant steel and concrete. The material is a plastic polymer – essentially a mix of shredded heavy plastics and a bit of fiberglass.

“People around the world are demanding clean, non-toxic alternative building supplies and methods,” says Steve Silverman, CEO of AXION. “Our solutions are formulated using up to 100 percent recycled plastic and no chemical additives. Compared to traditional building materials like wood, steel or concrete, they’re extremely cost-competitive, feature longer life cycles and lower maintenance costs. They won’t rust, splinter, crumble, rot, absorb moisture or leach toxic chemicals into the environment.” Also, because the products are lightweight, they’re easier and safer to install than traditional materials, he says.