Is Plywood Sustainable? (And Biodegradable too?)

Plywood is a common building material. Did you know that plywood is excellent for constructing cabinets? You can combine it with steel or other building materials to get perfect results.

Building contractors also use plywood for roofing and flooring. Plywood is skid-free even when it’s wet. It’s also very durable and highly resistant to extreme weather conditions and moisture, making it suitable for roofs.

The use cases for plywood are almost limitless; virtually every industry has one or more uses for it. Furniture makers also rely heavily on plywood, so you likely have a couple of items made from plywood in your possession.

Now, this begs the vital question of its sustainability. You may also wonder if plywood is environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Well, in this article, we’ll answer these questions, and even more, you didn’t know you had. Please, dive in!

Is Plywood Environmentally Friendly?

If you’re an environmentally conscious person, you’ll be curious about plywood’s effect on the environment. Well, it’s simple! Plywood is one of the most eco-friendly materials. We’ll break it down from its production process, down to its use cases, and finally, its disposal methods; all these are what make a material environmentally friendly or not.

Now, let’s get into it. Plywood is derived from trees, or wood, as we can imply from its name. It’s simply wood that’s attached with formaldehyde adhesive to form a strong building material. Plywood can last for hundreds of years, and the museums that have archaic ones can attest to this.

Plywood can be made from hardwood or softwood, and each type is useful for particular purposes. However, creating plywood entails deforestation, and a decrease in our trees contributes to the depletion of the ozone layer. But of course, trees are renewable resources, and we can fix deforestation with ease.

Softwood, however, has a fast growth rate. Hence, even when we chop down a considerable number of trees to make plywood, we’re certain that more trees will replace them within the shortest possible time.

Hardwood trees like birch also grow relatively fast and are in abundance in certain parts of the globe. Thus, even when deforestation is still in question, plywood production leaves no long-term environmental threats.

Plywood is also made from thin veneers of wood. This means that it consumes relatively less wood than other wooden materials. Formaldehyde adhesive is the bond between these thin veneers of wood, and plywood also gets its solid features from this.

On the other hand, this is a lesser evil in that the production process for plywood consumes little to no energy. It’s a simple process that entails sawing the wood into sizable pieces and attaching them to make them stronger.

Consuming plywood, on the other hand, is perfectly safe for the environment. It doesn’t release any toxic gases and can last a very long time. In addition, this helps us cut back on deforestation, as you can recycle old plywood.

Now, regarding the disposal method, we mentioned it already. You can recycle plywood; some curbside recycling centers accept it, and even if yours doesn’t, you can take the unwanted wood to a wood recycling company. It’s effortless to find one.

However, we suggest that you endeavor to get as many uses as you can from your old plywood before taking it to the recycling center.

How Sustainable is Plywood?

Plywood is a sustainable material. It’s made from wood carved into sizable pieces and glued together using a solid formaldehyde adhesive. The strength of plywood as a building material is almost unrivaled, considering that it’s built from natural resources.

You can use plywood for hundreds of years. It’s suitable for exterior walls, and you can find it in new and old homes. Plywood is also great for building furniture, cabinets, floors, and roofs, and they all last for centuries as well.

Even after the wood has outlived its lifespan, you can still find several uses for it before you finally consider disposing of it.

Other endearing features about plywood aside from its durability are versatility and multiple reuse features. Plywood is also pretty appealing to the eyes, and in most cases, you don’t need to paint or even stain the finished product.

You can recycle plywood repeatedly, provided it’s not stained with color or chemicals typically used to treat wood and prevent insect infestation. However, it’s best to avoid putting it in the trash.

When this happens, the plywood will end up in a landfill and will have to decompose naturally. Now, this is a terrible disposal method as plywood contains an adhesive that can be toxic to the environment when exposed to extreme heat. As such, it’s always best to recycle it instead.

Since we can use plywood repeatedly, upcycle and recycle it, it’s a sustainable material. Our continuous consumption of plywood leaves little to no effect on our available resources.

Is Birch Plywood Sustainable?

Birch is a type of tree that’s abundant in Northern Europe. As such, it’s a suitable material for making plywood. In addition, it’s reputable for its fast growth, thereby making replacement much easier.

Plywood from birch trees is also much stronger, versatile, and durable than plywood from other trees. It’s also more resistant to shrinkage than traditional plywood. Birch plywood is a sustainable option, and we’ll analyze why.

As always, we’ll start with its manufacturing stage. Since birch is in abundance in a certain part of the world, we don’t have to worry about deforestation. Plywood doesn’t need any rigorous processing stage before it becomes useful for construction and other use cases.

In fact, the processing stage doesn’t go beyond sawing the chopped wood to sizable pieces and attaching them with an adhesive. Then, of course, the thickness of the wood would be determined by its intended purpose.

Plywood is an excellent packaging material; it’s suitable for balancing heavy crates and packages. It’s also great for constructing exterior walls, roofs, and floors. In addition, its utility cases pose no harm to the environment.

While plywood is in high demand because of its versatility and durability, we can recycle it several times. As such, we don’t have to rely on a new supply of wood from birch trees, thereby reducing our consumption.

However, recycling birch plywood has an attached condition. Plywood that has undergone chemical treatment to prolong its lifespan, been stained or painted at one point or the other, or used as padding for transporting toxic materials cannot be recycled.

If it comes in contact with the other plywood in the recycling bin, it can contaminate the entire batch and render it useless.

Is Plywood Biodegradable?

Plywood is made from natural resources, which would be an ideal biodegradable material. However, it has an additional substance that entirely disqualifies it from biodegradability.

In reality, plywood is biodegradable. Microorganisms in conjunction with heat, moisture, and air can break down plywood just as they can decompose other wooden items.

But plywood needs formaldehyde adhesive to attach the pieces of wood to form a strong construction material. So, while ordinarily, plywood can be left to biodegrade, the presence of the bond makes it a terrible decision.

The longer formaldehyde adhesive is left in the environment, the worse the toxins it releases become. Formaldehyde is a chemical adhesive, and chemical bonds are high in VOC compounds, and the higher the temperature, the more gases are emitted.

As such, if you leave plywood to biodegrade on its own, it can result in adverse effects on the environment. The toxins will find their way to the atmosphere and the soil and can pollute both areas.

The most environmentally positive way to dispose of plywood will be to recycle it. But first, it’s best to reuse it for various purposes because it helps us prolong the need for a newer batch of plywood.

Its redeeming factor is its longevity and durability. Even though we cannot avoid using formaldehyde adhesive for our plywood, we can use it for a long time and recycle it repeatedly.

Is Plywood a Hardwood or Softwood?

Plywood can be hardwood or softwood; it depends entirely on the tree manufacturers chose for its extraction. Now, hardwood plywood typically comes from birch trees, which are popular in the northern part of Europe.

Hardwood is better suited for furniture, exterior walls, transportation, floors, and roofs. In addition, it’s much stronger and can withstand heavy weights and extreme weather conditions.

One of the perks of hardwood trees is their density. They typically take more extended periods to grow, but they develop to be strong trees in the process, and this strength is reinforced by joining thin strips of the wood together to form hardwood.

Contractors consider hardwood the best quality wood, and this is typically the go-to wooden material for construction. However, hardwood plywood is highly susceptible to splitting, and care has to be taken when using it.

Plywood can also be softwood. Here, the wood is derived from gymnosperm trees, including pine, cedar, fir, and redwood.

Softwood is much cheaper than hardwood, making it more popular for furniture making than the latter. Softwood trees also grow relatively fast; as such, there are lower threats of deforestation when we resort to using them.

One of the downsides to using softwood is that it scratches and dents easily. Contractors also consider it to be inferior to hardwood. However, softwood gets the job done, too, and is even better suited for specific projects.

For instance, softwood plywood made from Redwood trees is usually insect resistant and suitable for projects like decks and patios.

Is Plywood a Composite Material?

Plywood is a composite material. Typically, composite materials are made from two or more entirely dissimilar materials.

For instance, the dissimilarities could be physical and chemical, as in the case of plywood. Creating plywood entails sawing wood into desired sizes, and attaching the pieces with formaldehyde adhesive makes it a composite material.

Now, wood is an excellent construction option. However, it’s not as strong as plywood. Plywood is typically stronger and more durable and can withstand severe weather conditions.

It also helps that plywood is made from thin sheets of wood joined together by formaldehyde adhesive. Here, two entirely different materials are combined to create an environmentally friendly construction material.

Plywood can be made from hardwood or softwood, and each category is better suited for different purposes. While we consider plywood to be a composite material, it can also be a conventional working material.

Softwood plywood is excellent for building walls, floors, and roofs. For laminate flooring, kitchen cabinets, transportation crates, and some types of furniture, hardwood plywood is a great fit.


Plywood is a sustainable material, as you’ve come to realize. It’s also environmentally friendly. We can use it for several things, and all these will serve us for several decades.

Now that you know where plywood is from, the types, and its effects on the environment, we trust that you’ll use this information to make environmentally positive choices.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.