Wood-Plastic Composites VS Plastic Wood: History of Development

The charm of natural wood furniture, with its elegant and organic feel, has attracted the hearts of many home decor lovers. Therefore, plastic wood and wood-plastic composites appear to the public. Despite the popularity of natural wood, traditional wooden furniture comes with some drawbacks – it is heavy and less suitable for outdoor use. Exposure to varying weather conditions, such as extreme heat and heavy rain, can lead to rot or breakage of the products over time. Regularly cleaning and maintaining real wood furniture requires additional attention and care of people, which is time-consuming.

Real Wood Bench in the Park
Real Wood Bench in the Park

However, a noticeable shift is happening – the decline in the presence of real wood benches in parks and along roadsides. This change is attributed to the increasing use of plastic wood and wood-plastic composite products, offering a more sustainable alternative for outdoor furniture. These two materials not only address the limitations of traditional wood but also contribute to a more environmentally friendly solution for furnishing outdoor spaces. With the growing awareness of environmental conservation, the use of plastic wood and wood-plastic composite materials in furniture, especially outdoor furniture, has become more prevalent. Those people who are not familiar with these materials might mistake them for real wood. 

What Is Plastic Wood?

As a relatively new type of material in the furniture industry, many people are still confused between plastic and wood-plastic composite. Most people often mistake these two types of materials for the same thing since if you search “what is plastic wood” online, the explanation of wood-plastic composite might appear at the top of the result page. However, although they are both an excellent alternative to natural wood, they are slightly different.

Details of Plastic Wood Board
Details of Plastic Wood Board


Plastic wood, also known as plastic lumber, is a kind of outdoor plastic board or slat made of virgin or recycled plastic. At this point, do not mess up plastic wood with wood-plastic composite. Unlike wood-plastic composite, plastic wood does not contain any wood flour. It is completely made of high-performance plastics such as PS(Polysyrene), PVC (PolyvinylChloride), or HDPE(High-density Polyethylene).

Why Is Plastic Wood Popular?

Particularly, one of the most important reasons that plastic wood has become a popular material is its beautiful wood-like appearance. In order to enhance the practicability and strength of the material, LTR’s plastic wood boards contain auxiliary materials such as a UV-light agent, anti-aging agent, foaming agent, etc. The furniture made of plastic wood boards can be exposed to humidity and strong sunlight for a long time without breaking off and fading since they are 100% waterproof and weatherproof, which is the biggest advantage of our plastic wood compared to natural wood.

These are the places where you can see lots of plastic wood products, including hotels, loungers, patios, gardens, parks and other recreational areas. The environmental benefits, such as sun resistance, waterproof properties, low maintenance, durability, and colour retention, contribute to the popularity of plastic wood products. With these excellent furniture decorations in your outdoor areas, you can enjoy the fresh air and embrace nature with your friends and family in your leisure time, levelling up your outdoor spaces easily. 

Rise in Plastic Wood Park Chair 1
Rise in Plastic Wood Park Chair

What Is Wood-Plastic Composites?

Before we get deeper into the history and future development of the two materials that we talk about today, we will shortly introduce another material that is similar to plastic wood. This material owns an official name of wood-plastic composites (WPCs), which are composite materials made of the fibre and flour of real wood and thermoplastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or polylactic acid (PLA). Due to its practicability and durability, WPC furniture has gradually become the preferred choice for most outdoor spaces. Apart from the common use in outdoor furniture like plastic wood, outdoor decking is where this material is used the most.  

Increasing Popularity of Wood-Plastic Composites

What is more, due to its wide application in the furniture industry, some indoor designers also choose to use wood-plastic composite as their preferred materials. For example, many people have started to change their flooring options to wood-plast from traditional natural materials, offering a stress-free and eco-friendly alternative. That is because, when people used natural wood boards as their flooring in the past, the wood would normally fade, and the colours would disappear shortly since people often need to step on the flooring. The natural property of real wood also makes the flooring difficult to maintain and repair. When people use real wood as their flooring option, they need to pay additional attention to the ground. Especially when they have a party at home, they need to be careful to prevent any behaviours or water leaking that may cause damage to real wood flooring.

Deatils of Wood Plastic Composites
Details of Wood Plastic Composites

The History of Wood-Plastic Composite

Before the existence of plastic wood, wood-plastic composite appeared in the world first. The history of Wood-Plastic Composites (WPC) can be traced back to 1960 when an Italian plastics company in Milan announced its invention. The material was initially introduced to the public under the name Plastic-Wood and is considered new in the material industry. After that, this new material is occasionally referred to as composite timber by people. A key moment occurred in the mid-60s when the pioneering company, Icma San Giorgio, secured a patent for a ground-breaking process. This process involved the combination of wood fibres with thermoplastics, marking a significant step forward in the furniture industry.

Wood-plastic composites was initially not common in many different industries due to its novelty. However, there are certain industries, particularly those selling outdoor products, realise the substantial benefits of transitioning from real wood to WPC.

By the late 80s, WPC started to gain some popularity in the production of outdoor furniture such as park benches, outdoor chairs and so on. After that, it is also some indoor furniture making like doors and window frames. In the early 1990s, wood-plastic composites were introduced into the decking market, marking a significant expansion of its applications. At the same time, WPC solutions for fencing also experienced a large increase in popularity during this period. The evolution of WPC has been experiencing steady growth across multiple industries.

Wood Plastic Composites in Decking
Wood Plastic Composites in Decking

The History of Plastic Wood

By the 1990s, the popularity of wood-plastic composites had proven itself through various consumer applications. Still, researchers have discovered a way to convert high-strength thermoplastic polymers from recycled HDPE plastics into solid plastic lumber, which is called plastic wood materials. Unlike wood-plastic composites, these materials do not contain any wood derivatives.

Since the introduction of plastic wood in the 1990s, synthetic lumber has proven reliable in many residential, commercial, and industrial applications. HDPE plastic wood has become popular in the furniture industry due to the longevity and structural maintenance of the material. The demand for plastic lumber has continued to increase in the past decade. This material can help reduce post-consumer waste because of its sustainability and can be 100% recyclable after its intended use, which attracts people’s attention to it.

Plastic Wood Development in China

The development of plastic lumber in China has only passed a decade, but it already signals a promising future for this industry. The unwavering dedication of domestic plastic wood entrepreneurs, particularly highlighted by the successful integration of plastic wood materials in the construction of Beijing Olympic venues, has pushed the rapid development of “wood plastic materials” in the furniture industry.

In 2016, Chinese plastic wood production achieved a remarkable milestone, reaching 1.8 million tons. This accomplishment not only surpassed the United States but also solidified China’s position as the global leader in producing and exporting plastic wood products. The following years witnessed an impressive growth rate of exported plastic lumber, which is over 30% annually. This is a fact that revealed the success of the plastic wood industry and the positive acceptance from people worldwide. 

While plastic wood may not have a long-established history, its ascent and growth in the furniture industry have been extraordinary. The path of its development and the potential for growth within the furniture industry is needed for further exploration and innovation in the years to come.

Plastic Wood Application in Daily Life
Plastic Wood Application in Daily Life

Future Development Blueprint

In advancing the future development of both wood-plastic composite and plastic wood, the emphasis should be placed on integrating advanced technologies and assemblies that prioritize the key ideas of “aesthetic appeal, strong material properties, fast installation, and low price.” That is to say, in the future development process, people should focus more on the diverse and attractive designs of these two materials to cater to varied customer preferences.

Technological strides in co-extruded wood-plastic surfaces featuring multiple colours and embossed styles should be a central focus for the industry. Innovation through different co-extrusion technologies, including single-layer, multi-layer, and so on, is essential. People should explore advanced automatic production machinery to boost efficiency in manufacturing processes. What is more, efforts to enhance the durability of plastic wood and wood-plastic composites for prolonged outdoor use should be a key objective since this is what most customers care about.

Moreover, the biggest selling point of these two materials should be continually maintained, which is “beautiful, durable, and maintenance-free.” To achieve this standard, different advanced technologies and exquisite handcraft skills can be applied to enhance the excellent craftsmanship of products. Among them, the durability of products is the focus of development, which is one of the main determinant points people care about when making purchasing decisions. Some factors can help improve the durability of materials, such as the properties of non-fading, scratch resistance, stain resistance, mildew resistance, and improved material rigidity. A manufacturer excelling in these areas can not only enhance the reputation of their plastic wood but also stand out in the industry where superior performance is key to success.

Diversity of Plastic Wood
Diversity of Plastic Wood

Plastic Wood or Wood-Plastic Composites: Which One to Choose?

After reading the above paragraphs, you might already have a clearer understanding of the differences between plastic wood and wood-plastic composite. From the perspective of materials used in production, I would highly recommend you manufacture outdoor furniture from plastic lumber instead of wood-plastic composite since plastic lumber is completely made of plastics and does not include any substances related to real wood. These two materials nearly share the same benefits. For example, they are both waterproof, weather-proof, durable, anti-insect, and low-maintenance. However, there are some subtle differences in terms of their properties. Compared to WPC, plastic wood has a higher performance in UV resistance, rot resistance, and insect resistance. What is more, its durability is also longer than that of WPC, which can last over 20 years outdoors. Wood-plastic composites only has a life span of 15 years.

In order to create a wonderful garden moment with harmless and safe plastic wood furniture, LTR also offers tailor-made customization in different colours and shapes of the materials, providing perfect one-stop solutions for you and your customers’ outdoor spaces. There must be one choice that caters to your preferences!

Conclusion

In conclusion, the journey of plastic wood and wood-plastic composites signifies a transformative shift in the furniture industry. They have overcome the limitations of traditional wooden furniture, becoming a sustainable and practical choice for both indoor and outdoor applications. Their history, dating back to 1960, reflects a continuous evolution of the whole industry, which mainly focuses on technological innovation, diverse designs, and enhanced durability. The future of plastic wood and wood-plastic composite lies in maintaining its core strengths—beauty, durability, and low maintenance—while embracing advancements that cater to evolving consumer needs. As a resilient and eco-friendly material, plastic wood plays an essential role in shaping the future of furniture materials. 

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