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The Real Cost of Composite Decking

Low maintenance but at what cost?

The deck is a staple of the Australian summer lifestyle that comes in all shapes and sizes but a new player is becoming increasingly popular: composite decking. 

Why:  Low maintenance. 

How: Plastic

Composite decking is often defined as a man-made building product made up of a mix of wood fibers, plastics and bonding agents. Most people replace their decks every 7 to 10 years which represents a huge amount of plastic waste going to landfill. Natural decking such as timber or bamboo can be returned to the soil at the end of their lifecycle to fully decompose in up to 3 years as opposed to up to 450 years for plastic.

As of 2017, humans had produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. We send at least 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year and yet, annual plastic production is expected to triple by 2050. 

Plastics are made from fossil fuels and the majority of the population is now aware of the devastating impact of fossil fuels on climate change. Few people realise that plastic production is far worse. According to David Roberts, journalist at Vox, “the best research suggests that it averages out to about 5 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of plastic[…]. That’s roughly twice the CO2 produced by a tonne of oil.” He adds that “If plastic demand were to grow as projected, annual emissions associated with plastic would double by mid-century.”

Not a good look when the world is racing to reduce carbon emissions due to their catastrophic impact on climate change.

Suppliers of composite decking are quick to claim how time consuming maintaining a natural deck is but with climate change worsening by the day and plastics filling our oceans, is applying a coat of paint every 18 months really that bad? 

House of Bamboo XTR deck installed by Fandr Constructions.

The problem with recycled plastics.

Manufacturers of composite timber proudly claim that their product is “eco friendly”, “sustainable” or “green” thanks to the use of recycled plastics. 

To quote William McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things, “being less bad is no good”. Composites made from recycled plastics are still, well, plastics. 

In a fascinating article in The Verge, Justine Calma uses a striking metaphor by Josh Lepawsky : “Think of plastic pollution like an overflowing tub in your bathroom. If you walked into that, probably the first thing you would do would be to turn off the tap — not grab a bucket and a mop, if you think of the bucket and the mop as recycling. Turning off the tap equates to staunching the production of plastic goods. Trying to clean up a growing mess won’t address the root of the problem.”

According to a report by WWF, out of the 3.4 million tonnes of plastics used in Australia in 2017-18, only 9.4% was recycled. Of that amount, 46% (145,700 tonnes) was processed in Australia and 54% (174,300 tonnes) was exported for reprocessing. 

But some Asian countries that used to import our recyclable plastics are grappling with their own plastic waste and, as a result, have started reducing their intake, forcing some cities to cancel their recycling programs. 

Outdoor Pergola With Woven Bamboo Ceiling
House of Bamboo Sydney Showroom featuring fused bamboo decking.

Another issue with composites that use recycled plastics is that“when you mix an industrial material (plastic) that is recyclable with a biological materials (wood) that is compostable you get a material that is neither recyclable nor compostable” says Pablo Paster of Treehugger. William McDonough and Michael Braungart call this a “monstrous hybrid”. Your recycled plastic composite decking or cladding was manufactured and purchased with the best intentions but its afterlife was not considered. 

“Before you even make something, you have to think about throwing it away,“ says Bryon Donohoe, a senior scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. If we want to reduce waste, we inevitably have to cut down on production and consumption of materials that are likely to end up in landfill.

Even if we recycled 100% of all new plastic produced, it could only be recycled, or rather downcycled, a few times. Plastic deteriorates with each use meaning it breaks down into lesser quality particles that can eventually no longer be used or downcycled and end up in landfill or the ocean, including the seafood we eat.

When the choice comes down to finding a piece of composite decking in your food a few years from now or maintaining a natural deck every 18 months, what would you choose?

Cognac Bamboo Decking Around Pool Area
Natural bamboo decking.


The Race To Save The Planet From Plastic. Umair Irfan, Vox

Recycled Plastic Won’t Solve Tech’s Waste Problem. Justine Calma, The Verge.

The State Of Australia’s Recycling: How Did We Get Into This Mess? WWF 

Deck: wood or plastic? Pablo Paster, Treehugger

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things. Michael Braungart and William McDonough

What is Composite Wood? Coen Composite Wood

It is no secret that bamboo is an incredibly versatile material for architects and interior designers to work with. Traditionally used for structural purposes, it is now mostly used for its visual appeal. To help you decide where to travel when borders finally open, or to inspire you to turn your home into a holiday destination, we rounded up our favourite hotels, holidays houses, lodges and accommodation of all sorts that champion bamboo and natural materials. (Pictured above: Resende Villas and Barracuda Beach Hotel & Villas shot by Tarso Figueira).

1 – Wild Coast Tented Lodge, Sri Lanka

This spectacular 5-star resort on the edge of Yala National Park is not only an architectural wonder, it is also a masterclass in sustainability. Because of its close proximity with the national park, it was built with as little impact as possible on the local environment. Our favourite feature is the impressive bamboo chandelier that floats over the bar, suspended to the 10m bamboo dome crowning the restaurant. (image: Marc Hernandez Folguera)

2 – Bamboo Lodge – China

If there is a hotel on this list that makes the most of bamboo’s versatility, it is Bamboo Lodge in China. From bamboo poles lining up the restaurant’s ceiling to the monumental balustrade of the main staircase and the curved feature walls in all bedrooms, this project is proof that bamboo applications are only limited by our imagination. And if you are a rattan enthusiast, this handcrafted mosaic should inspire you for your next DIY project. (Image: Ce Wang, Junwu Long)

3 – Bawah Reserve, Indonesia

6 islands, 3 lagoons, 13 beaches. That is all yours to discover when you stay in the remote Anambas Archipelago 300km northeast of Singapore. Turquoise waters, white sand and bamboo galore is what awaits you at this luxury resort, built above the lagoon. From the tikki bar inspired restaurant to the open spa hut, Bawah Reserve is a true testament of the structural strength of bamboo. (Image: luxurytravelmag)

4 – Hotel Jakarta, Amsterdam

You would not think you are in the docks of Amsterdam when walking along the bamboo cladded walls of Hotel Jakarta. The 4-star hotel stands at the edge of the river where ships used to depart for Indonesia in the 19th century. Architects used bamboo veneers, panels and beams throughout the building which contributed to Hotel Jakarta receiving an “Excellent” rating from BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method). (Image:

5 – Sala Samui Chaweng Beach Resort, Thailand

Open since 2018, this resort took 5 years to design and build. And it is easy to see why. Each room is unique and different styles cohabit in harmony throughout the property. The lobby featuring an undulating ceiling of bamboo blinds has pure Santorini vibes, the spa is a brightly coloured pop art studio and the rattan-lined bathrooms and bamboo screened private pools transport guests to Bali. The resort may be surrounded by pristine beaches and lush rainforest but it’s the flawless design of the complex that steals the show. (Image: Wison Tungthunya)

6 – Peliva Nature & Suites, Greece

Nestled between an olive grove and cliffs overlooking the Pagasetic Gulf, this stylish holiday house is Greek living at its best. The reed pergola allows guests to sit outside and take in the unobstructed ocean views while rattan is cleverly used throughout the house from the living room to the bedrooms. The colour palette is exclusively composed of neutral tones that naturally blend in with the surrounding landscape conveying a sense of calm and serenity. (Image: Dimitris Spyrou)

7 – Innhouse Eco Hotel, China

Echoing the natural beauty of the surrounding forests, this eco-hotel in China was built as a model for responsible tourism in the region. Fully cladded with laminated bamboo, it is a perfect example of environmentally sensitive architecture coupled with contemporary design. (Image: Oval Partnership)

8 – Playa Viva Treehouse, Mexico

The most coveted room of the Playa Viva resort in Guerrerro is their picture-perfect bamboo treehouse located right on the beach. Spread on two levels, this open-air villa stays true to the sustainable mission of the resort. Built with local resources (wood, palms, carved stones and of course bamboo) it runs exclusively on solar power and all water is recycled. (Image: The Cubic Studio , Leonardo Palafox)

9 – Boheme Hotel, Mykonos

Boheme may be located on Mykonos but its design is pure Santorini. White walls, pure lines, vibrant vegetation and tonkin pergolas. Probably one of the easiest interior design styles to replicate at home. You may just have to pass on the expansive water views. (Image:

10 – Marriott Resort Momi Bay, Fiji

As guests step in the grand lobby of the Marriott Resort in Momi Bay,  their eyes are instantly drawn to the cathedral-like ceiling entirely wrapped in palm fibre. Proudly supplied by House of Bamboo, this textured material was chosen by Chada designers to pay tribute to the original Fijian huts while blending seamlessly with the more contemporary design of the resort. (Image: Marriott) 

11 – Tiing Hotel, Bali

It would be near impossible to list all the villas, lodges, hotels, huts and resorts that showcase bamboo in Bali but Tiing Hotel deserves a special mention. Far from your usual Bali style accommodation, it pays homage to the famous local grass in a subtle yet arresting way. If bamboo poles are used to clad the doors of this ultra modern villa, they were also imprinted in the concrete walls, leaving their trace without compromising the contemporary design of the space. (Image: Ben Hosking).

If you feel inspired to feature bamboo or other natural and sustainable materials such as rattan, Natureed® and palm fibre in your home or professional projects, reach out to our team of Design Consultants on 1300 665 703 or via email at and we’ll make your resort dreams a reality.