WPC eco-friendly materials.
Our mission is to help our clients create "The environment of their dreams" by using the most elegant and eco-friendly building solutions in the market. In this article, we would like to share with you the most important aspects of WPC.
For your convenience you can follow our table of contents below.
We invite you to continue reading.
What is WPC?
WPC (Wood Plastic Composite) technology, also known as "Technological Wood, Plastic Wood, or Composite Wood", is a creative solution made from recycled plastic and wood or bamboo fibers.
Its eco-friendly characteristics offer a wide and elegant range of materials and its function is to replace the use of traditional wood with an alternative that offers the resistance of high-tech plastics against extreme weather conditions and insects.
The development of the WPC technology has been a very successful innovation in the automotive, real estate, hotel, and other sectors. In the case of building industry, it has been particularly successful due to its wide range of products and applications.
The creative possibilities of the product are practically limitless.
WPC has come to the market at a perfect moment in time, not only given the great need that the planet has for having eco-friendly solutions; but also because of the great benefits and advantages that these products fulfill in their respective applications.
Among some of its applications, WPC is used to make wooden boards for terraces or decking, railings, pergolas, siding, furniture, garden products and many others.
Why is WPC important for the environment?
Using WPC products generates two very important benefits to the environment:
1.Recycle plastic garbage
2. Avoid cutting down trees.
Recycling is the smartest way to get rid of our garbage to help reduce environmental, water and food pollution..
Plastic pollution is causing irreparable damages to the planet and far from diminishing, the problem is getting worse every day. Plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade, contains chemicals and absorbs heavy metals, antibiotics, pesticides and other toxins.
On the other hand, trees contribute to preserving life on the planet. Among other functions, forests improve the quality of water and the air, protect the soil, biodiversity, contribute to food security, and help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
At Ecomateriales, our WPC products use recycled plastic waste and produce elegant, highly resistant materials for the building industry and other sectors.
For example, each one of our ECO-DECK boards recycles the equivalent of approximately 650 supermarket bags or 145 (550ml) plastic bottles; and each year our suppliers recycle hundreds of millions of plastic bags and other types of waste to produce these materials, which prevents them from ending up in rivers, the sea, landfills or incinerators.
On the other hand, the purpose of our products is to replace the use of natural wood in order to avoid further destruction of forests. Our products are made from “WASTE OR GARBAGE” from bamboo furniture factories.
Bamboo (a type of "grass" - not a tree), also has a high quantity of benefits over traditional wood which give greater strength and efficiency to our products.
At Ecomateriales, our ECO-DECK decking line goes even further; since it ensures through international certifications that the bamboo used by furniture factories is originally sourced from renewable plantations.
In the end, all of our efforts are summed up in that we recycle plastic garbage and protect forests; but the most important thing of all and our great purpose is, that we work hard to protect and preserve our planet so that future generations can also fully enjoy it.
What is WPC made up of?
The main advantages of WPC wood are: its excellent aesthetics, its durability and the resistance that these products provide over traditional natural wood. However, the science and art of producing top quality WPC lumber lies in the knowledge and ability to manage and control the proper mixture of the following 3 main components presented below:
The natural fibers used to manufacture WPC wood give a more natural texture and greater rigidity to the products. Normally, natural fibers make up between 60% and 70% of the final product.
WPC can be produced with different types of natural fibers; among them, the most common are:
This is produced with wood flakes, wood fiber, wood grain or sawdust (It is obtained from the remains of wood cuts). Mainly these raw materials use remains of or waste of pine coming from companies dedicated to the transformation of wood (For example: Furniture) and the maintenance of forests.
Unlike wood or (trees), bamboo is scientifically classified as a "Grass". These fibers are also obtained from the waste of companies that are dedicated to the transformation of bamboo and the maintenance of this type of forests.
It is obtained from recycled paper.
WPC is also produced from thermoplastic resins in order to provide the superior physical characteristics of plastics to the end products.
The resins can be virgin or recycled (from companies dedicated to the transformation of plastics, such as bottles, bags, etc.), among which are: HDPE (High Density Polyethylene), LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), PP (Polypropylene), PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), PS (Polystyrene) and PLA (Poly-lactic Acid).
HDPE or (High Density Polyethylene) based WPC is by far the most common. Normally these products have between 30% to 40% of these plastic materials in their composition.
Finally, in addition to natural fibers and polymers, WPC uses additives to bind and protect the natural fibers and polymers.
These are a very important factor because they also have a great role in achieving the durability and performance of the final product.
Among the types of additives used are pigments such as colorants, coupling agents, UV stabilizers, fire retardants, blowing agents, foaming agents and lubricants, which help the final product adapt and meet its desired characteristics and goals for your application.
At Ecomateriales, we have different types of finished products, all of the highest quality.
Our ECO-DECK decking line is specifically designed to achieve the highest quality and the best resistance and durability of our products. Our WPC is made up of 60% bamboo fibers (recycled), 30% HPDE fiber (high-density polyethylene – produced with plastic bags, bottles and others) and 10% other components and additives of the highest quality level in the industry.
What are the advantages of WPC vs. natural wood?
Plastic wood or WPC has many advantages over traditional natural wood. These advantages are mainly divided into the following 4 areas:
Like natural wood, WPC has materials that allow it to provide a very distinguished and elegant look, as well as a wide variety of colors and styles. The difference is that WPC maintains its good appearance for a much longer time than natural wood over time without requiring maintenance.
WPC lumber is a product designed to withstand outdoor environments, which makes it a highly durable product. WPC has the following advantages over natural wood:
- Moisture resistant
- It resists changes in temperature and the environment (sun and rain) without cracking, damages or rotting.
- It is fungus resistant.
- Does not fade. WPC loses only a small percentage of its color tone in the first few weeks of sun exposure. However, its color has no variations. Some woods, like teak, change their color (for example, from brown to gray).
- WPC is resistant to insect attacks (termites, moths, etc.) and does not require treatment against some pests as natural wood does.
- It does not contain splinters which makes it very safe for your family, friends and pets.
Benefits the environment.
- WPC is made from recycled materials and is 100% recyclable.
- By replacing the use of natural wood, WPC prevents millions of trees from being cut down each year. In addition, our products take advantage of wood waste from sawmills, which also helps so that they do not end up polluting through incineration or landfills.
- WPC is made from recycled plastic, which reduces pollution from bottles, bags, and other plastic products in cities, landfills, rivers, and oceans.
- WPC can be manufactured under a zero water waste process.
Our WPC products are also free from toxic or carcinogenic chemicals like those made from PVC, or toxic chemicals often found in pressure-treated wood or required to maintain natural wood.
In which applications can WPC be used?
In the last 20 years, the development of WPC has had a very strong boom worldwide and has allowed the industry to conquer a considerable market in multiple sectors thanks to its excellent properties.
In contrast to natural wood, WPC lumber can be freely shaped and is much more weather resistant; while in comparison to synthetic plastics, WPC composites stand out for their textures, natural look and lower pricing.
Below are some of the WPC product lines and applications that currently exist in various industries:
WPC is very important for the production of auto parts nowadays and has had significant progress in its development and applications in recent years. The use of WPC makes it possible to make more environmentally friendly vehicles, that are more economical and with accessories that are more resistant and look better.
In the buidlding industry, the use of WPC has spread to dozens of applications such as roofing, sidings, ceilings, floors, doors, windows and shutters.
Additionally, within the building industry, specialized WPC products have been developed to build entire terrace spaces including: Decking boards, tiles (Modular deck pieces for terraces), railings, pergolas and blinds (Louvers).
Gardening, decoration and playgrounds
In garden spaces, your imagination is also the limit. Today there are hundreds of models and types of planters, vines, walls, fences, paths, tree houses, pet houses, sandboxes, playgrounds, Play houses, birdhouses, planters, pot bases, garbage bins, and many other uses.
At last, it is worth mentioning that nowadyas there are also all kinds of products such as benches, table sets, chairs, picnic tables, sun beds, and others made from WPC lumber.
In conclusion, although a wide range of WPC product lines have spread to various sectors and industries; it is estimated that the WPC industry is just beginning to consolidate itself and will replace almost 100% of the natural wood used in the future. The finishes and benefits offered by the material, and the creative possibilities of the product are truly unlimited.
How is WPC manufactured ?
Producing WPC is a highly complex task. To describe it in the easiest or most simple way, it can be said that WPC is produced by mixing heated particles of natural fiber (Wood or Bamboo, etc.) with thermoplastic resins (HDPE or Polypropylene, etc.) and another wide range of additional additives.
The most common manufacturing methods for wood-plastic composites are extrusion, injection molding, and compression molding or thermoforming (pressing).
There are also other new methods such as fused layer modeling and the laser sintering process; however, this article will only present the extrusion and injection processes, since they are the ones used to manufacture WPC products for the building sector. (The other methods are more specific to the automotive and other industries).
The extrusion of WPC products is used to manufacture profiles such as: decking boards, siding, skirting boards, facias or posts for pergolas and railings. In this method, an extruder machine is used, which is the central processing system for these types of profiles.
Polymer extrusion is a mechanical industrial process which mixes the polymer (or plastic) and melts it along with the natural fiber (Wood/Bamboo) and additives until they become a type of "dough" through a process called "composition".
In other words, in this part of the process the "Composite" of wood and plastic is created. After having this compound, by means of a continuous flow, this mass is pressed and pushed transporting it through the extruder die until it subsequently flows out of the machine through a mold or die (or nozzle) that is responsible for giving shape to the final product.
Subsequently, when exiting the die, the product passes to the cooling tank, which is responsible for solidifying the extruded profile to its linear shape. The cooling tank consists of a conveyor system with nozzles that spray cold water on to the extruded profile.
The cooling tank can be 6 to 12 meters long depending on the material output from the extruder and the required cooling capacity. Sprayed water is usually collected and recycled and may go through a chiller or heat exchanger to keep it cold for re-spray.
After going through the cooling tank, the WPC profile can go through a roller that gives the desired look to the surface of the material (For example: A specific wood grain embossing).
Finally, the board continues to pass through a saw, which cuts the wood to the desired lengths.
The production process is highly complex and can be expanded much further. For example, there are four main types of extrusion systems used to process WPC profiles. These are (1) single screw, (2) co-rotating twin screw, (3) counter-rotating twin screw, and (4) Woodtruder; however, this article will not get into such depth in order to keep the topic to a less technical level.
The WPC co-extrusion process is practically the same as extrusion. The difference is that this type of machine simultaneously allows different extruders to join together and then join their mixtures in a final process in which different "Layers" are applied to the end product.
Injection molding of wood-plastic composites is used to produce parts that contain complex geometries. A typical example of an injection molded part in WPC is the cap of a post for railing structures or “RAILING”.
Like the extrusion process, the plastic injection machine has in its first stage a phase where the plastic, wood and additives must be melted and mixed to create the "Composition" of the materials.
However, unlike the extrusion, the injection machine or "plastic injector" presses the "mass" into a mold that "encapsulates" the plastic, shaping and cooling each piece produced.
Important things to consider during the process:
Among the main factors that must be handled very well during the WPC manufacturing process in order to obtain very high quality products, are: having high quality raw materials, carefully handling an adequate formula and having appropriate knowledge and experience to perform such tasks.
For example, in the production of WPC, a critical issue to take into account is the fact that the "wood" flour is hygroscopic, so the thermoplastic matrix used must adequately moisten the wood to protect it; otherwise WPC will absorb moisture, leading it to age poorly, unwanted odours, weak mechanical properties and microbial attacks.
As explained below, the use of additives has a very important role in achieving this task.
APPLICATION OF ADDITIVES:
If there is one thing that cannot be emphasized enough, it is the great importance that additives play during the WPC production process and the role they play in producing materials of a high quality level.
The problem is that its proper management is extremely complex and very expensive (For example, wood flour can cost about $0.20 cents per kilo and recycled HDPE about $1 per kilo, however, a good additive can cost hundreds of dollars per kilo).
Highlighted below is the importance and function that these additives have in the production of high quality WPC:
- Coupling agents: they improve the adhesion of natural fibers and plastic resins, which promotes greater resistance and reduces the absorption and retention of water and improves the mechanical properties of products in the long term.
- Thermal stabilizers: such as phenolics (primary thermal stabilizers) and phosphites (secondary thermal stabilizers) prevent polymer degradation during processing.
- Light Stabilizers: HALS (Hindered Amine Light Stabilizers) prevent UV degradation.
- UVA (UV absorbers) prevent degradation from UV rays.
- Lubricants – improve flow and performance and reduce wear on machinery.
- Colorants: Provide attractive surface finishes and some additional protection against UV rays.
- Biocides: protect against bacterial and fungal attacks.
- Zeolites: adsorb unwanted odours.
- Foaming agents: reduce the density and weight of composite products, but can decrease mechanical properties.
It is worth emphasizing that, although sometimes it is visible, in most cases, the proper use of additives will not be reflected in the "Appearance or finish" of the products, so it is common to see products that have a very similar or even identical appearance, but that once they are applied, end up obtaining very different results.
A clear example of this can be seen in the fact that in the last decade there have been several lawsuits against many manufacturers of WPC terraces, which have arisen due to the lack of use of sufficient or good quality additives.
What kind of products are available in the WPC market?
There is a very wide range of products in the market that can replace the use of traditional wood in decking applications.
Among these, are products made from 100% recycled plastic, vinyl, aluminum, PVC and those made from WPC.
WPC (Wood-Plastic Composite) is by far the most widely used, as it is the only green material that provides and excellent look and achieves durability without using toxic chemicals.
The term WPC refers to any composite that contains plant fiber (either wood or bamboo) and plastic (or polymers).
There are 3 main categories among WPC (Wood Plastic Composite) products:
1. The traditional or “Non-capped” WPC (traditional WPC without an outer layer of plastic)
2. The “Non-capped” 3D WPC (traditional WPC with a three-dimensional look but without an outer layer of plastic)
3. “Capped” or “Co-extruded” WPC (WPC with a protective plastic layer on the outside)
Among the different categories of WPC, each one has a wide range of colors and wood grains, and there is no doubt that, when considering the 3 product categories together, you can count on a wide enough variety of characteristics and finishes to satisfy the needs of any customer.
In general, the 3 categories fulfill their function very well as a replacement for natural wood. They are all eco-friendly alternatives and have all the advantages offered by these types of products over the use of traditional natural wood in terrace environments.
However, the 3 categories have different characteristics, so there are advantages and disadvantages between them.
Taking this into consideration, it would not be correct to say that one of the categories is better than the other. Truth is that there are many variables that can define this, so in the end, the "Best product" should be defined by taking into account all the needs and tastes of each client
However, truth is that there many levels of quality and pricing both between categories as well as within each of them.
For example, there are traditional WPC products that are very good and others that are not, and the same is true between 3D WPC and Co-extruded or “Capped” WCP products. The important thing to remember is that the quality and duration of the product will not be defined by its characteristics or finishes.
Some of the characteristics of each of the product categories are detailed below:
The traditional or “Non-capped” WPC:
- Traditional WPC without an outer plastic layer.
- It is the product that mostly resembles traditional natural wood.
- Variety of finishes (smooth, striped, with wood grains, etc.)
- Any food spills, sauces, etc; must be cleaned within 24 hours.
- Some boards can be repaired by sanding them down.
The “Non-capped” or “3D” WPC:
- Traditional WPC with three-dimensional surface.
- Higher scratch resistance than traditional WPC.
- Variety of finishes (different wood grains)
- Allows a longer period of time than Traditional WPC (>24 hours) to clean up food spills, sauces, etc.
The “Capped” or “Co-extruded” WPC:
- WPC with a protective plastic layer on the outside.
- Higher scratch resistance than traditional WPC
- Variety of finishes (different wood grains)
- Allows a longer period of time than Traditional WPC (>24 hours) to clean up food spills, sauces, etc.
Why is it important to buy good quality WPC products?
Being high-tech products, the production of WPC-based materials has a high level of complexity. Although today there are hundreds of suppliers and products in the market; just like in any other industry, there is also a very wide range in the quality levels of the products offered.
THE DIFFICULTY OF DISTINGUISHING GOOD PRODUCTS FROM BAD…
One of the biggest problems that exists in the WPC market is that it is very difficult to see the difference between good and bad quality products. To understand the problem in greater depth, below, we can observe the factors that achieve the high quality in these types of products
- The use of clean and top quality raw materials.
- The use of high quality additives.
- The correct formulation and mix of inputs.
- The high level of equipment and machinery used.
- Following quality management and process control systems.
- The high quality, management and high knowledge and training of the workforce.
- Proper management of product transportation logistics.
- The experience, interest and commitment of the manufacturer in producing high quality materials.
As one can see, the big problem with all these factors is that none of them can be evaluated "At a glance" by simply having the product in your hands.
So, in WPC, there are factors such as the formulas used and application of high quality additives, which are responsible for giving the materials strength, resistance and long life, mainly when they are exposed to harsh weather conditions throughout time.
The formula refers to “The recipe” that is used in the manufacturing process to produce WPC. This is one of the most critical factors with these types of products, and if you do not have the proper knowledge to handle the right recipes, the final result (product quality) will drop drastically.
Here are a few examples of some important factors that a good formula should include:
- Percentage of wood flour found in the total mixture (more than 60% will cause problems and alarms should sound)
- The size of wood/bamboo particles used (The smaller the better)
- The amount of talc used in the product as a filler (more than 10% lowers quality and may indicate cost reduction).
- Whether the polyethylene used is high or low density (HDPE tends to be stronger but more irregular)
- The changes to be made in the formula in the event that it is detected that the polyethylene is irregular or in the event that any other raw material meets any variation in its specifications and how to detect these changes in the raw materials.
Be aware that the sales strategy of a company can be an issue, as some suppliers/distributors are not focused on selling high-quality products but instead choose to sell low-priced products.
PAY ATTENTION TO EXCESSIVELY LOW COSTS:
Higher quality products inevitably have a higher cost, as they use premium quality raw materials, which in the case of WPC can be much more expensive. A clear example of this occurs with some manufacturers that use very low quality additives or that reduce the amount of additives in order to lower the price of their products.
Although everyone takes pride and likes to buy at good prices, you should be very careful when doing so, since it could be a very clear sign that the product you are buying is of low quality. This will greatly influence the performance of the products in a negative way. Normally, damages due to this type of situation occur between the first 2 and 5 years after the products have been installed. In other words, be very careful when choosing your product; as the saying goes, "Cheap things can turn out to be very expensive."
Below are some important points related to raw material costs:
- High-density polyethylene (is more expensive than low-density polyethylene) – High-density polyethylene, however, makes products stronger.
- Wood flour can cost about $0.20 cents per kilo
- Recycled HDPE costs around $1 per kilo.
- High quality additives can cost HUNDREDS of dollars per pound.
As one can see from the above, one of the best ways to lower the price of a product (without customers noticing a difference in quality) is by reducing the use of additives or using very low quality ones. This point cannot be stressed enough: In most cases, the improper use of additives will not be reflected in the appearance and "look" of the products, so products with a very similar appearance or even looking identical to each other can be manufactured, but once they are used, they will end up showing very different results.
PAY ATTENTION TO WARRANTY:
Warranties can often be a fairly reliable indicator of the quality and performance that can be expected from products. However, caution should be exercised as this is not always the case. There are suppliers that increase the warranty of their products in order to be more competitive against other better quality products on the market. This is a very risky practice, which new suppliers / distributors sometimes take. Unfortunatelly, these types of decisions are usually taken by people who lack the experience and knowledge of the materials and who guide themselves by the good appearance of their products only without fully understanding the issue of hidden factors "such as additives" (discussed above).
Recommendations on how to choose a good supplier for your plastic lumber:
WPC is undoubtedly the best alternative to replace the use of traditional wood. However, there is a wide range of options in the market, and sometimes it is difficult to know how to choose the best options available.
Below are some tips that might be helpful you during your election process:
- Our best recommendation is to purchase high-quality materials when choosing your WPC products. There are many good looking products, but in WPC, appearance is not a good indicator of quality. Play it safe and protect your investment!
- Work with specialists that have extensive proven experience in the use of the products. WPC is the best replacement for traditional wood; however, it behaves very differently from natural wood. An innadequate installation can cause serious damages to your products. Seek advice from experienced companies before installing your products!
- Request information from suppliers. Remember that it is your investment, so do not hesitate to ask the suppliers for any documentation that you consider important to make your choice (This is your right).
- Review and compare information provided by providers such as:
- The company's curriculum and experience with these types of products.
- Warranty: (Request and read the warranty documents carefully).
- The technical specifications of the products.
- The certifications about the percentages of mixtures used by the manufacturers.
- The quality certifications of companies and products.
- Lab testing performed on the materials, etc.