Wood-plastic composite (WPC) is a blanket term for a range of composite materials which are primarily created using wood fibres, wood flour, or wood pulp, along with thermoplastics like polypropylene (PP), polythene (PE), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Additives can be included to improve the bond, structure, or pigment of the final WPC product. WPC products have taken many industries by storm in recent decades for their strength, weather resistance, and lack of required maintenance when compared to timber product, especially for outdoor installations like composite decking, composite cladding, or composite fencing.
WPC was first invented by an Italian plastics company in Milan in 1960, making WPC still a relatively new material on the grand scheme of things! First launched under the name Plastic-Wood, WPC is also at times referred to as composite timber. By the mid-60s, the first company, Icma San Giorgio, had patented a process of combining wood fibre to thermoplastics to produce WPCs.
As a relatively new material, WPC is still quite rare in some industries. But many, especially those trading in outdoor products, have seen huge benefits to switching to WPC from timber. By the end of the 80s WPC was becoming more popular for products such as door and window frames, park benches, and indoor furniture. In the early 1990s WPC composites were introduced into the decking market, while WPC for fencing and cladding solutions continued to gain popularity.
The popularity of WPC and its gradual replacement of timber can be attributed to its longevity and weather resistance, as it will never rot away due to water damage as timber does, and its environmentally friendly use of recycled materials. WPC products can also be produced with simulated wood grain, and with pigments to perfectly mimic a natural timber effect, so consumers are able to maintain the aesthetic of timber products, with the additional benefits of WPC.
Today, WPC products continue to replace older timber products across many industries. With the rise in WPC, deforestation for timber can be slowed and plastics can be recycled to avoid landfill. WPC will undoubtedly continue to gain higher popularity as our world moves to greener, more carbon-neutral initiatives and products.