Recycled plastic railroad ties making inroads

There are nearly a billion wooden railroad ties holding together the railroads and subways of the U.S. That’s a lot of wood, and thus a lot of trees. It’s also a lot of creosote, a preservative chemical used on wood and deemed by the U.S. EPA “probably a human carcinogen.” The cost of wood coupled with insurance against creosote-related litigation is inspiring some rail operators to switch to ties made from recycled plastics and rubber — milk jugs, plastic bags, Styrofoam cups, and so forth. Manufacturers claim that plastic ties are environmentally friendly, and that they last longer and resist humidity better than their wood counterparts. Makers of plastic ties now have less than 1 percent of the market, but they anticipate a growing share in years to come.