Designing Playgrounds for a Healthy Future
Why timber is the ideal playground material
One of the biggest social concerns of our time is our “throw-away” society, and the tendency for our products to have “built-in obsolescence” combined with overly processed materials that do not break down. Landfill is becoming a very real problem.
Often when we design new playgrounds, we get excited about what's new and exciting - and don’t want to think about what we will do when these products reach their own end of life. But considering end of life when creating something new is important, and doesn’t have to be a compromise on value and play experience. There are so many benefits to using natural timber in playgrounds!
Natural timber is beautiful. It appeals to all our senses, with natural colours, textures and scents all being part of the package. Equally importantly, natural timber stores carbon and serves the environment as it performs its duty as playground equipment, and breaks down organically at end of life. This is such an important lesson for children when designing for the future.
Teaching the next generation about the natural world
Schools and preschools everywhere around the world now have sustainability and environmental concerns within their core missions of education. One of the best ways to work this into the learning environment is to think about the things the students are using in their daily lives. Natural play equipment changes over time, as part of the timber’s organic lifespan. This is an incredible lesson on how natural materials differ from plastic and metal that take hundreds of years to break down and show little change throughout their lifespans. Children spend a lot of time on natural play equipment exploring textures and different handgrips, and can notice changes caused by weather, age and use. This hands-on learning provides a valuable insight into the natural world.
Energy and manufacturing
Timber play equipment produced by Timber Creations is created by hand using very little machinery. This leads to both a higher quality product due to the attention to detail and hands-on approach, as well as a reduction in emissions during the manufacturing process. The production of plastics and metals as raw materials produce tonnes of CO2, and the manufacturing process requiring specialised machines adds to this further. Timber Creations use collected and recycled materials rescued from landfill and give them a second life through hand sculpting and arranging pieces to enhance natural beauty.
End of life responsibilities
Timber has incredible carbon storage advantages over all other building materials. Every end of life disposal option for a timber playground has a positive carbon-storage result. If the pieces are recycled for other uses, they retain value, save alternative manufacture and store carbon. If they are left to break down naturally, even in landfill, they store 95% of carbon for over 30 years. If they are burned as firewood, they save the use of fossil fuels. When metal and plastic playgrounds are removed for disposal after the recommended 10 year lifespan, the focus must be on reducing the significant environmental damage they will do due to the slow break down and release of chemicals from these materials.
With annual maintenance natural timber playgrounds can be in service for 10 years without ever having to be closed for major servicing. This is a fantastic lifespan for a playground as trends and requirements change over the decade and updating for the new generation becomes essential. With this turnover in mind, it becomes increasingly important to focus on recycled, sustainable, and environmentally friendly materials. A case study from Lizard Log playground shows how a timber playground can be updated for the next generation while maintaining the feel of the original space!