Towards a zero-waste future: Sustainability and design benefits of composite cladding - Page 2 of 6 - Construction Specifier

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As manufacturers of WPCs move closer to zero waste, they have incrementally increased the amount of recycled material in their products. WPC is made almost entirely from recycled wood and recycled plastic—some are made with upwards of 94 percent pre- and post-consumer recycled material—which prevents materials from being sent to waste streams and landfills, while preserving valuable natural resources. This makes WPC much more sustainable than many other building envelope materials.

Wood flour is recycled from sawdust, planer shavings, or other scrap material from window trim, door frames, lumber, or cabinet pieces that would otherwise be discarded. Through its recycling efforts, a leading manufacturer of composite decking and cladding products prevents more than one million trees from being cut down every year. This is equivalent to about 15,000 football fields of healthy forests preserved annually.3 In addition, its manufacturing process of WPCs does not involve the use of rainforest species, thereby safeguarding threatened trees and curbing deforestation. While any wood species can be incorporated into WPCs, the most common are maple, pine, and oak.

The plastic in composite cladding is derived from milk jugs, shampoo bottles, grocery bags, laundry detergent containers, and other recycled packaging material. The average American family uses approximately 1,500 plastic bags each year, with each bag being used for an average of just 12 minutes.4 If not recycled, these plastic bags likely end up in landfills or the ocean, where they could remain for up to 1,000 years.5 That said, it is this same resistance to decomposing that helps composite cladding last such a long time. As many as 2,000 plastic bags can be used in the manufacturing of a single WPC board, which means one manufacturer can recycle an average of 45 million kg (100 million lb) of plastic each year. That is the weight of approximately 227 Boeing 747s.6

Working toward zero waste, WPC producers have, for some time now, been increasing efficiencies in the manufacturing process. These improvements are yet another reason why WPC is highly sustainable.

Composite cladding manufacturers with dedicated recycling facilities can recycle both post-consumer and post-industrial polyethylene (PE)—the most common form of plastic waste. And thanks to automated material shredding and sorting, it is becoming faster and less expensive for manufacturers to incorporate recycled materials into building products.

Since it is important these plastics are not entering the waste stream, some manufacturers ensure 100 percent of the material is reclaimed in the manufacturing process. When the PE arrives at a recycling facility, for example, it undergoes a battery of tests—including thermal, moisture, and infrared analysis—to confirm the molecular structure of the polymers and to provide insight into the history of the sample. Inspectors examine the individual physical properties of the samples, check for possible degradation, and determine whether any contaminants are present. If the samples meet strict quality requirements, they are staged in a warehouse for further inspection. If the samples fail, they are sent to alternate recycling operations with less stringent requirements.

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