Are you wondering what the environmental impact of Wood-plastic composites (WPC) is? WPC is a product range that has been developing for the last 40 years. There is an increase in its usage and it led to a rise in its market share. WPC are composites that contain a wood component in the particle form and a polymer matrix. They are used in many non-structural and structural applications. It ranges from product prototyping to outdoor decking. The most common usage of WPC is in construction and automotive.
Environmental Impact of WPCs
The environmental impact of products has emerged as an alarming issue. They are used by the marketers, scientists, and the public to see how technologies and products affect our environment.
There are some ways through which you can estimate the environmental impact of the processes and products. The Life cycle assessment (LCA) is one of the ways. It studies the inputs and outputs of the process used for the creation of the product over its useful life.
Another assessment is a cradle-to-gate, it starts with the production of raw materials. It ends when the product leaves the facility of the manufacturer.
Apart from this, another way to assess is the impact of the product, is cradle-to-cradle. This assessment is for recycled and reused products. In cradle-to-cradle case, materials are cascaded and reused after every lifecycle. WPC falls under the wood cascade because the repetition of processing generates material side streams which are good to use in WPCs.
Recycled plastics are used in WPCs that considerably decrease the environmental impact. Wood counterbalance the quantity of the non-renewable materials in the WPC. The usage of wood in long-life products seize the atmospheric carbon and alleviates the climate change. These are connected to the energy use of material extraction and processing.
The environmental impact of the WPC matrix elements differs as it depends on the type of the matrix used. The petroleum-based polymers effect the environment negatively. This because they are dependent on the non-renewable materials. The use of renewable-based biodegradable polymers like PLA may have a smaller environmental impact.
The comparison of solid timber decking products and WPCs showed that solid wood creates a lower environmental impact. A comparison of Alkaline Cooper Quaternary (ACQ) lumber and WPC was made. WPC was made from 50% of recycled wood with matrix mixture of virgin and recycled petroleum-based polymer. It showed that the ACQ decking used 14 times fewer fossil fuels and 3 times less water. The smog and ecological toxicity were nearly half. But the equal eutrophication was almost the same.
Moreover, it was mentioned that if renewable energy sources were used for WPC production. It could reduce the fossil fuel consumption.
In another study, it was found that decking made from virgin PVC, virgin WPC, recycled WPC and redwood lumber, produces less global warming potential. Along with this, it causes less ozone depletion than PVC. Recycled WPC produces reduced impacts in comparison to virgin WPC in all categories except in one, the impact on ozone depletion was similar. When compared with PVE, recycled WPC has provided reduced effects. The only exception was eutrophication which was greater for recycled WPC and smog effect. It was nearly equal for both.
In the end, WPC is a product class that has several usages. Mostly it is used for exterior decking and board applications. In WPC wood is used to diminish the cost and weight of the plastic products. Along with it improves the properties of the materials like its strength. Another benefit is to reduce the environmental effect. So it can be said that WPC consisting of recycled wood is safe for the environment.