The sustainable creativity of WPC

Diversify and innovate production focussing on eco-sustainable polymers. This is a must for moving forward

by Susanna Matera

Wood-plastic composite, or WPC, are seeing rapid expansion. Developed to make articles for construction, nautical and outdoor design sectors, they are gaining popularity in industrial contexts (cable reels, pallets), furnishing and even automotive (profiles, door panels, van floors). Its “green” core is driving use in ever new sectors.

The best of both worlds

Made partly using resources from renewable sources and at times containing raw materials recovered from processing waste, wood-plastic composite draws on concern for sustainability, supported by an excellent surface appearance and a lasting quality performance profile. Its dual nature combines aesthetics and the comforting mood of wood – warm and “natural” colours, pleasant feel – with lightness, sturdiness and resistance to atmospheric agents and – not least – large-scale production, which is an appealing feature of plastics. A marriage of beauty and practicity particularly suited to the world of furnishings and tableware. In this sector, like in interior design, the spirit of the time imposes sobriety, versatile and nomadic solutions that do not bind articles to a single use. Moreover, materials and finishes must be neutral, warm, with a “natural” look. This crucible of trends has led to the creation of the SimplyBox range, developed and patented by Alfaplast, an Italian company based in Piacenza (Italy).

plasticWOOD’S WPC
PHYSICAL PROPERTIES
Specific weight
at 23 °C ISO 1183: 31,064 g/cm3
MVR index (190/10) ISO 1133: 10-29 cm3
Water absorption D1037 (ASTM): less than 1%

MECHANICAL PROPERTIES
Flexural modulus (2 mm/min) ISO 178/A/2: 3,490 MPa
Flexural yield: 60 MPa
Tensile modulus (ISO 527-2/1A/1): 1,740 MPa
Maximum load: 32 MPa
Deformation at break: 5%
Charpy test without notch at 23 °C ISO179-1 1 and KU: 13 m2

MOLDING CONDITIONS
Press head temperature: approx. 160 °C
Temperature on the injection point: approx. 175-180 °C
Mold temperature control range: 40-60 °C
Screw temperature: approx. 160/165 °C

Quality is a virtuous cycle

Alfaplast’s production has been developed over the course of thirty years, guided by professional standards, passion, and the ability to perceive the customer’s needs, but also the evolution of technology and market trends. Founded in 1989 by Daniele Affaticati, drawing on his experience consolidated in the field of plastics injection moulding, thanks to the quality of his workmanship, over time he secured collaborations in multiple sectors: to name but a few, the automotive and mechanical industries, food and medical packaging, technical parts, and foodservice. The concept of quality is interpreted by Alfaplast in the broadest, most authentic sense, and is delivered using plants and methods attentive to energy efficiency and respect for the environment. What’s more, the need to protect products from contaminants deriving from processing necessitates constant quality monitoring of the air and water used to cool the production line, which helps to prevent waste and harmful emissions. And there’s more. «Our company philosophy is based on reducing processing waste, recycling everything that can be recycled, and minimizing our water and energy use» explain Daniele Affaticati and Mariagrazia Romanini, wife and valuable co-worker of the owner. «In this context, we decided to begin moulding a WPC material, which represents an alternative to traditional plastics and enables us to contribute to promoting sustainability with eco-friendly products. The plasticWOOD materials that we use are derived, in high percentage, from birch flour from wood working waste, mixed with polypropylene. This gave the idea to develop SimplyBox, a range of multipurpose containers».

Who’s plasticWOOD
plasticWOOD (Mazzantica, Verona) is the youngest company in the Geofin group. Established in 2001, the mission of this Italian company is to combine technology with environmental protection, offering products derived from renewable sources and regenerated polymers. It is currently offering a line of wood-plastic composites (WPCs), consisting of a polyolefin-based thermoplastic matrix loaded, in proportions of up to 60%, with vegetable flours specifically developed for injection moulding. «We use fir wood flour, in particular, although, driven by our inclination for research and design, we have also tested rice and wheat straw, apple peel processing waste, olive pits and many other vegetable fibres available in the agricultural sector, which, being waste products, make our product’s LCA even more advantageous» explains Dino Sprea, owner of plasticWOOD. «The different types of vegetable fibre do not affect the performance of the compound, only, if anything, its colour and aesthetic characteristics (and thus those of the manufactured product) and its feel. For example, when you use rice straw, you get a compound of the same grey colour as a rice stem, whereas wheat straw will give you a golden coloured compound, like the colour of wheat» Sprea goes on. The real advantage of these WPCs over plastics is their aesthetic value, because the of wood flour graining effect, at the end of the manufacturing process, gives each piece a very particular and unique appearance. From a technical point of view, the compounds are characterised by high fluidity, an excellent overall balance between mechanical and thermal properties, and high flexural strength. What is more, and this is a particularly interesting aspect, in injection moulding they are just as versatile and easy to use as traditional polymers, and therefore there is no need to invest in new equipment.

“Green” performance and beauty

You will certainly have met them, for example at a restaurant or café. The design idea behind this range is simple but very effective, because it is inspired by a type of object that is extremely familiar, the usefulness and functionality of which have been tested by generations: crates for transporting and selling fruit and vegetables, as well as pallets, a variant with broader base and lower height. Container modules that “radical” designers from yesterday and today have used as models, sometimes straying very little from the standard, to build bookshelves, sofa bases, small tables, and so on. Alfaplastic has stuck to forms and proportions, reducing sizes to transform them into articles for the table. SimplyBox is a container, event favour or basket, depending on the form; the most compact and sleek model started out as a bread stick holder and can be used as a container for Bordeaux bottles, cutlery holder or pen holder. Faithful to the wood model is also the choice of the plasticWOOD composite, that gives objects a country look combined with the practical use typical of plastic. «SimplyBox articles are patented» Daniele and Mariagrazia point out. «They can be fully recycled within the production chain, generating relatively low levels of carbon dioxide emissions during processing». They come in three types, five sizes and a wide range of colours, and can also be customized with graphics according to customer’s needs. Ideal for food containers and machine washable, resistant to humidity, and providing excellent mechanical performance.

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