Plastic plywood substitute

Energy & Sustainability Furniture & Lighting
Plastic plywood substitute

I make a bunch of stuff out of plywood. A lot of it is utilitarian furniture–bookshelves, workbenches, occasional chairs and stools. I’ve been wishing for a long time that I could find a plastic substitute material, like the synthetic decking and lumber I see for sale in the hardware stores these days, to use instead, not only for the eco-friendly aspect, but because I’d like to have a material that was naturally water-resistant and did not require finishing.

That’s why I was excited to learn, a few months ago, about EcoSheet, which is a “plywood replacement” panel material manufactured by British firm Environmental Recycling Technologies. I hit them up for a sample and they sent me a 4″ x 4″ x 3/4″ piece of the stuff, which is pictured above. It does not weigh as much as plywood, but seems just as rigid, and drills and cuts easily. And although their initial market seems to be the construction industry, specifically temporary structures erected as barriers and pouring forms, I’m looking forward to experimenting with “off-label” uses when and if it becomes available in small quantities in the US.

EcoSheet is manufactured from 75% recycled material, mostly waste electrical and electronic equipment, and can itself be recycled at the end of its useful life.

Update: Peter Ball from EcoSheet just contacted me to let me know that their latest manufacturing process uses 100% recycled material. [Thanks, Peter!]

18 thoughts on “Plastic plywood substitute

  1. Robert Fuchs says:

    There are several other products out there, though they all seem to be rather expensive… (which looks to be Bedford’s sheet plastic)

  2. Tim Lewallen says:

    That’s really neat. Keep us posted please!

  3. Glento says:

    If you have a local plastics store see if they have “PVC Expanded Foam Board” It’s available in sheets like plywood and works similarly. The cost is a little more than wood but will last forever in outdoor applications. I’ve used the product on a boat restoration and was very pleased with it. It’s the same type of product as PVC trim boards.

  4. says:

    It looks rather ‘foamy’, so I guess it can mainly be used in structures requiring only panels (like bookshelves). Routing will be rather tricky because of the holes.


    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      You’re exactly right, and I meant to mention that in the article. The top and bottom surfaces are smooth, but the inside is foamy. So I don’t think it would rout or take threads at all. The kind of stuff I build is ultra-basic kiddy knock-down plywood furniture that slots together; if I have to use a router I call it too much work! I would not call it a material for anyone who is doing serious craftsmanship.

  5. says:

    Not to mention the fact that it biodegrades rather than having to be explicitly recycled (with associated losses and energy costs).

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Also a good point. In retrospect, “tree-friendly” might’ve been a better adjective than “eco-friendly.” If I were a better educated consumer of timber products, I might know how to tell if the wood I’m buying comes from sustainably-managed forests. But I don’t. And so whenever I start to want to make something out of wood I think twice. Unless I’m reclaiming it from something.

      1. Hank says:

        Reclaiming and reusing is great, but if you must buy new lumber (in the US), look for the FSC logo. Home Depot is surprisingly good at stocking FSC certified lumber.

  6. Dave says:

    Perhaps *wood* is, but plywood, particle board, OSB and the like contain significant amounts of non-recycled/non-recyclable/non-biodegradable materials. A plywood replacement that is durable and makes use of material that might otherwise end up in landfills is a step forward.

  7. carboncanyon says:

    I wonder if there’s anything analogous to wood putty for this product?

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      A good question. If it’s got lots of polyethylene in it, it might be hard to find anything that will stick to it. It also occurred to me that you might find some kind of putty or resin you could smear into the edges to fill in the open foam cells and give them a better look. Maybe even that “Lab Metal” stuff that hardens to look like aluminum. OR something brightly-colored to set off the gray of the panel itself.

  8. Shadyman says:

    I notice that it’s 100% recycled… I wonder if it’s recyclable, too?

  9. rob says:

    A few points:

    – Is this post-industrial recycled content, or post consumer recycled content?

    – How will it handle creep? I’m guessing not so well – this is a typical problem with plastics, when you place a stress on them for a period of time they will creep (deform, sag etc.). This is something to be aware of if you try to build say a bookcase (books are heavy), though this can happen just due to self weight.

    – Cutting plastics is different than cutting wood, they melt and through chips and in my experience generally aren’t as much fun to work with (but hey wood dust isn’t much fun either I’ll admit, but I have good dust collection that can handle the fine particles).

    – As Shadyman asked, is it recyclable? Some plastics use recycled content, but in a mix that makes them very hard to recycle.

    I did try a small project using some recycled hdpe “lumber” – I was excited by the idea initially, but having used it I must say I prefer wood.

  10. daniel rich says:

    I wonder if I could use this to make an outdoor climbing/bouldering wall. I have been looking at an outdoor climbing wall in the backyard for a while but I know plywood deterioration in the weather can be a problem. From my research most people use marine board, but this is an interesting alternative.

  11. Jim Richardson says:

    how does it compare in structural strength and rigidity to plywood?  On of the downsides to the synthetic lumber is that it is far less rigid. (a sample of a 4″ square won’t really show you that)

  12. Clayton says:

    Since when is plastic environmentally friendly?!

  13. William Hucks says:

    I’m working on a solar hot water heating system and I need something other than regular wood as a backing material. We used regular plywood on the prototype and now we’re moving into production and need something more stable than wood. This looks like it would work for my application. How soon will I be able to buy it here in the “States”? William Hucks 843-602-8143

  14. Joe Strout says:

    I second William’s question… c’mon, guys, don’t just throw an article up on the net and forget about it. How about a follow-up on availability of this material in the states?

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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