What Is a Wood-Plastic Composite?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Wood-plastic composite is an engineered construction material that can be used like wood planking in many applications. It is made with plastic resins and waste wood from industrial processes like milling and paper pulping. Other filler materials may be used, including binders and colorants. Such products are subject to testing to determine their durability and load limits before they are released on the market.


Producers of wood-plastic composite work with plastic pellets, finely pelletized wood, and a product known as wood flour. This uniform meal is made by grinding scraps from timber processing into a powder of an even consistency. It can be easier to work with than fragments of wood, and may yield a more stable, sturdy final product. The wood-plastic composite can also include thermosetting resins and other components used as finished and to add durability.

The materials are melted, blended, and set in molds of various shapes and sizes. This product can be cut like wood into pieces of desired length, and its finish does not require additional treatment. Some products are designed to resist stains, and products like paints may not take well without preparing the surface first. A variety of colors are produced to allow people to color match their wood-plastic composite to different applications and needs.

One common use for this material is in outdoor applications like decks, walkways, and fencing. It is durable and strong and can work well in all these settings. Wood-plastic composite can also be used to make furniture and other wood accessories. Building codes may not allow for its use in structural settings like beams and other components, depending on regional policies. People with concerns about how and where it can be used can consult a contractor, who can provide information on the latest building codes.

Materials testing for wood-plastic composite can include a variety of procedures to determine the conditions under which it might fail. Codes may mandate that it passes the same tests as comparable woods, such as those generally accepted for use in decking. Manufacturers can change the properties of this product by using different base materials, which allows for materials of varying levels of strength, flexibility, and durability.

Some wood-plastic composites may be marketed as environmentally friendly. They can be made with recycled materials, which can reduce the need for virgin raw materials. The level of environmental sustainability can depend on manufacturing processes, shipping distance, and ingredients, all which consumers may want to consider before making a purchase.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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