Special Report – Wood-Plastic Composites: Regulatory approval arriving piecemeal

For wood-plastic composites to achieve legitimacy in construction applications, producers will need to develop and submit to tests and standards. Some are already on their way.

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May 1, 2002 by Canadian Plastics

Is it building-code approved? There’s no simple answer for wood-plastic composite products under Canada’s regulatory regime. Municipalities across the country have the responsibility to interpret and enforce the provincial building codes, and municipal officials would have the final say whether a new material, such as WPC, could be used in a given project.

However, there is some consistency and guidance from several national bodies, and it is through these that producers of WPC are likely to seek legitimacy.

The committee organized by the National Research Council develops a “model” building code that serves as a guide for the provincial codes and for municipal agencies. “So, essentially, we have uniformity throughout the country,” explains John Berndt, manager of the Canadian Construction Materials Centre (Ottawa). CCMC operates under NRC and offers evaluation services for new or non-standard products not covered by the existing building code.

“Our process is to develop a series of tests and analyses that are needed to show equivalency (to code requirements), and give that set of expectations to the client. The client has the product tested; we analyze the results. If we are satisfied with the results then we register the product as having been evaluated. That evaluation is readily accepted by municipal officials.”

Berndt says several WPC products are currently being evaluated.

A similar evaluation process is possible in the U.S. through several agencies. Berndt notes that “Canadian officials have been known to accept U.S. assessments,” which may help the large U.S. brands achieve market penetration in Canada.

Last year, the standards agency ASTM released a set of standards pertaining to recycled plastic lumber and shapes, but these are not applicable to most WPC because they only apply to products with up to 50% wood filler.

Berndt says criteria established by CCMC for WPC are not the same as the ASTM standards. “We have consulted some experts, and are imposing some different expectations than ASTM did for plastic lumber.”

There have been talks among some Canadian producers regarding the formation of a consortium or trade association to address regulatory issues, but Michael Burgoyne, an industry consultant who is organizing the group, said in April that the initiative was moving slowly.