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An Eco-Innovative Alternative to Plywood

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Cutting-edge technology puts plastic waste materials to good use

In 2018, close to 20 million tonnes of plastic waste produced by end consumers was landfilled or incinerated across Europe because it couldn’t be easily collected, separated and eventually recycled. An EU initiative has found alternative uses for such waste.

Industrial Technologies

Besides the mixed plastic waste problem, the increased use of plywood typically manufactured from slow-growing, tropical hardwoods is also a major environmental concern. Plywood is a key, high-volume commodity in construction industry formwork (shuttering). Every year, an area the size of Madrid is deforested to meet Europe’s demand. The EU-funded ECOSHEET-PRO project developed an eco-innovative and cost-effective alternative to plywood made from mixed plastic waste that’s suitable for high-strength applications in the construction industry. “Our customised extrusion technology transforms mixed plastic that would likely be wasted into a competitive, reusable plywood replacement,” explains coordinator Giorgio Colombo. “It will cut down on global demand for plywood and contribute to a substantial reduction in deforestation and biodiversity loss, thus avoiding landfilling or incinerating mixed plastics.”

Exceeding industry’s plywood needs with novel manufacturing process

The new technology engineers a recycled plastic. Specifically, it produces a technical sheet made of a plastic matrix. “The technical sheet market is huge, and the benefit provided by the developed technology is an additional sophisticated method for producing technical sheets by mixing recycled plastics with a foaming option and multiple layers – either reinforced or not,” Colombo notes. To address mixed plastic waste landfilling or incineration, the ECOSHEET-PRO solution is suitable for manufacture from hard-to-recycle mixed and contaminated post-consumer plastic waste with minimal preprocessing (feedstock preparation). The low-cost blending process produces a feedstock with a required olefin-based plastic type. It’s also suitable for remanufacture, leaving waste disposal organisations with less waste to deal with. This will result in less disposal costs for the construction industry, municipal authorities and waste management organisations. ECOSHEET-PRO also tackled the problem of plywood use in construction. The engineered material is usable up to 10 times, compared to 2 times for traditional plywood, reducing the number of new boards to be purchased by 80 %. Discarded boards can be processed into new board feedstock. Strength performance matches that of plywood, and it’s easy to work with because it accepts both nails and screws. Boards are lightweight and moisture resistant so they don’t degrade when exposed to rain or wet concrete. An excellent surface finish means that it can be maintained over its service life, and colour variations are suitable for hoardings and architectural applications. What’s more, the sale price matches traditional plywood.

Reducing environmental impact

Environmental benefits are many. ECOSHEET-PRO provides a use for low-grade plastic waste that otherwise ends up in landfill or gets incinerated. By creating economic value for low-grade plastic waste, uncontrolled disposal will be reduced. It replaces plywood which is a major source of global deforestation. The ECOSHEET-PRO solution has a much longer life than plywood, reducing overall consumption. It doesn’t use harmful materials such as resins and formaldehyde adhesives found in plywood, which are then leached into the ground when plywood is ultimately sent to landfill. This helps to avoid CO2 emissions from incineration. Lastly, it complies with EU chemical regulations and smoke and toxicity requirements.

Keywords

ECOSHEET-PRO, plastic, plywood, plastic waste, construction, board, mixed plastic waste, technical sheet, landfill, waste management

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