The playground decision: Why materials matter

Of all the factors you must consider when planning a playground, one of the most important is what materials are used in the playground’s structural components. There are only three basic options to consider for commercial playgrounds: steel, wood, and plastic.

Even with regular (and costly!) maintenance, steel playground components will rust and need replacement within 10 to 15 years. Owners of wooden playgrounds face even more problems—especially mold, rot, and frequent sealing or staining, not to mention the hazards splinters pose for children. Plastic components can be either the solution or another set of problems, depending on the type of plastics and processes used in manufacturing. Here’s what you need to know:

Recycled HDPE Plastic Playground Equipment 

  • The preferred plastic material for playground components is recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene), made mostly from milk jugs.
  • HDPE is sustainable, rugged, durable, and adaptable for a variety of commercial applications. It also can be melted and reformed to recycle it again.
  • Many companies claim to make plastic lumber from recycled HDPE. Unless properly formulated, even HDPE can crack and split. (EcoPlay field reps see this often with playgrounds we are replacing.)
  • HDPE plastic lumber can itself be recycled as part of a “closed loop” of sustainability.

EcoPlay Structures’ plastic lumber is based on a proprietary formula and is molded piece by piece. Unlike other HDPE, fiber-reinforced composite, and composite plastics used to make playground equipment, our plastic lumber combines two attributes that result in extraordinary strength and durability:

  • Made from 95% HDPE and a naturally occurring mineral, it has outstanding chemical, moisture, and environmental stress crack resistance. We don’t comingle HDPE with non-HDPE plastics, fiberglass, or fillers that will degrade tensile and compressive strengths.
  • Our plastic lumber provides extraordinary structural properties and won’t rot, split, crack, chip, or fade, even after long exposure to harsh weather conditions.

Thanks to our proprietary material and processes, EcoPlay Structures stands behind the commercial playground structures we manufacture with a 50-year warranty on the EcoPlay® lumber. Interested in learning more? Please contact us today! 

For those who yearn for a clean, sustainable environment—like EcoPlay Structures—Earth Day is the perfect time to educate the kid in all of us on the benefits of a healthy environment and how we can take care of mother earth.

April 22nd marks the 49th time we’ll celebrate Earth Day in America, with the first coming in 1970. The annual celebration was spearheaded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin who, after visiting the site of a major oil spill in California in 1969, came up with the idea of a national day to honor — and protect — our planet.

The first ever Earth Day saw 20 million Americans come out to parks and other public gathering areas to promote a healthy, sustainable environment. Today, Earth Day is observed around the globe, with world leaders holding special events to promote the cause.

Now, we all can’t attend fancy events put on by world leaders, but we can do our part at home or in our schools to promote sustainable, healthy practices. We wanted to share some fun activities for the whole family — or classroom — that are easy to do, fun, and educational.


Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.


We all have a part to play in keeping the environment healthy and strong, and this Earth Day activity is a first step in educating children on how they can help. For this activity you’ll need the following items:

Once you’ve gotten all of your pieces, all you have to do is cut out the labels from page 3 of the Earth Day recycling activity and tape one of them to the front of each bin. Next, have children put various pieces of garbage onto their paper plate Earth crafts (or pictures of Earth) and explain to them that what we throw away typically stays on our planet for a long time. After the short “lesson,” have the children take the garbage off of the plates and sort them into the specific bins.

Afterward, we encourage you to visit your local playground or park and put what you’ve learned into action! By working together to help clean up garbage left behind at a favorite community playground, your children will learn the importance of both volunteering their time and protecting the environment.


It’s Amazing What You Can Do with Milk Jugs


Did you know EcoPlay Lumber® is made from 100% post-consumer recycled HDPE; like milk jugs, food containers and soap bottles recycled? It’s true! Our lumber material also has a 50-year warranty. While we think making our structures out of recycled milk jugs is pretty cool, that’s not the only thing you can do with them. You can also REUSE your milk jugs at home in a variety of ways.

Check out this fun milk jug planter project, which can be done with the following items:

  • Milk jugs
  • Rocks
  • Dirt
  • Flower seeds

All you need to do is follow three simple steps. First, wash the jugs and cut them in half, just below the handle. Second, pile your rocks — these can be found in most yards for free — in the bottom of the jug, about an inch deep, and add soil to cover the top of the rocks. Lastly, sprinkle the seeds onto the dirt, water, and place outside in the sun.   

As another fun Earth Day activity, we’ve created this free printable color sheet just for you! We’d love to see your finished artwork. Please share photos with us using #EcoPlayEarthDay.

For more than 20 years, EcoPlay has been used to construct commercial playground equipment which cultivates #PlanetFriendlyFun. The footprint we leave in the planet is important to us, which is why we produce a quality product that lasts for decades with materials that would have otherwise been buried in a landfill. We hope you have a wonderful Earth Day, and you can take time to reflect on what it means to have a healthy environment. And please don’t hesitate to contact us today if you are interested in learning more about our products.

Hint: It’s not the purchase price

A neighborhood playground’s cost is more than what you pay the supplier. That’s the acquisition cost, which isn’t the best gauge for evaluating playground costs when reviewing proposals from competing bidders.

When you evaluate commercial playground vendor proposals, you’ll want to calculate the cost of ownership over the long term, perhaps 30 years. Let’s say you are evaluating two proposals: a steel playground and one built from EcoPlay Structures’ plastic lumber. 

How to calculate the cost of a new playground for your neighborhood

Here’s our simplified, four-step approach for comparing the cost of ownership of playgrounds. To focus just on equipment costs, we’re not including landscaping, fencing, or the cost of ground cover materials, such as pea gravel or rubber mulch. 

  1. For each proposal, calculate your initial investment in the playground equipment. Don’t forget to add transportation and installation costs.
  2. For the steel playground, use a 15-year lifespan to calculate replacement costs in today’s dollars. This means replacing it twice in 30 years.
  3. For EcoPlay Structures playgrounds, factor in the cost to refresh the structure by replacing some lighter components, such as slides and shades. Assume your refreshment cost is about 10% of the Step 1 cost after 15 years and another 10% after 30 years.
  4. For a steel playground, add steps 1 and 2; for an EcoPlay Structures playground, add steps 1 and 3.  Compare the totals, and you should find that the long-term cost of ownership for a steel playground is about double that of an EcoPlay Structures playground.

Check out this real-world example where the initial investment in the EcoPlay Structures equipment was higher than steel. After 30 years, however, EcoPlay generated savings of 47% over the steel playground!

So, when it’s time to build a playground, talk to one of our playground specialists. We’ll help you design an age-appropriate playground to suit your space and your budget.