Circular economy, post-consumer materials, composite materials and WPCs

May 2019

La.So.Le.Est has been working for years with other companies for the production of eco-friendly materials that have wood flour as their constituent. The art of producing composite materials, however, is as old as the world: think of primitive artificial materials such as bricks, made up of straw and mud combined together. Today we often talk about eco-compatible materials, post-consumer materials and circular economy. Everything is tied together.
The issues of post-consumer materials are the result of a ten-year journey that began in 1976 in a report presented to the European Commission [1] where the speakers outlined the vision of a circular economy and its impact on creating jobs, resource savings and waste reduction.
In 2016 the first conference was held in Sweden specifically dedicated to post-consumer materials, the so-called circular materials, obtained from renewable sources or precisely renewed, and transformed following the logic of conservation of resources.
Post-consumer materials, true “physical protagonists” of industrial production, can be identified in three large families, bio-based, neo-classical [2].
The "bio-based" are biopolymers of vegetable or biological origin, consisting of organic and renewable components; materials from urban and industrial waste, or waste that has not been recycled or destined for landfills to date, which, thanks to technological evolution, can be included in the production cycle as raw materials. These include wood flours processed by La.So.Le.Est SpA.
The "neo-classics" are those materials that are recycled and are now firmly entered into different production processes.
Finally, the “ex novo” materials are extremely heterogeneous, “final” because they are positioned at the end of the production and disposal chains: they are materials considered to be at the end of their journey, but which instead give rise to projects of reuse that are sometimes very interesting for technologies and for the transformation processes necessary for their collection and recovery.
Post-consumer materials are sometimes also composite materials [3], i.e. consisting of two or more phases with different physical properties, whose properties are better than those of the phases that constitute it.
Among the various types of composite materials we find WPCs (Wood Plastic Composite or Composite Wood) [4] whose components are wood fibers or wood flours with thermoplastic materials.
There are numerous advantages of composite wood compared to natural wood: it does not break and does not dry out; it does not deform; it does not become thorny; it is impermeable to water by virtue of a water-repellent composition given by the polymer contained within it; it is resistant to abrasion and mechanical stress; it is anti worms and insects; it is antiseptic and cannot be attacked by fungal agents (fungi, molds or microorganisms); it is not affected by aging caused by sunlight, as it has an excellent resistance to fire and temperature changes and does not overheat even if subjected to hours of exposure to the sun and dries quickly; it has a remarkable resistance to loads.
In essence, WPCs offer the beauty of wood, but without all its disadvantages.
From an environmental point of view, we can define this eco-friendly material. In fact it reduces the use of the wood itself, allowing to cut down less trees and its manufacturing process does not release pollutants into the environment. The fact that it does not require maintenance treatments with oils or paints further contributes to respect for the environment and above all it is a 100% recyclable material. It can be extruded again at the end of its life cycle or used as fuel in waste-to-energy plants.

[1] “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy”, Walter Stahel e Genevieve Reday - The research was published in 1982 in the book “Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy”.
[2] “Neomateriali nell’economia circolare’’, Anna Pellizzari e Emilio Genovesi, Edizioni Ambiente, 2017.
[3] Materiale composito, Wikipedia,
[4] WPC, Wikipedia,