Materials Good News StoriesPosted: January 16, 2012
I’ve been collecting a handful of good news stories around materials for a rainy day. These are not crazy, wild stories, but accessible innovations that are commercially available. They’re not thrilling like silk from a hagfish, but they are real, which is very important.
Are Vacuum Cleaners the Measure of Success?
TED talks like this one from Capt. Charles Moore have me convinced that recycled plastic is mostly a myth. His research has suggested that exactly “diddly squat” percent of plastic is recycled. While that sounds a little harsh, it’s probably not far from the truth. Ever since my rant about upcycling in nature I have been looking for examples where plastic is not only recycled, but is also used at a high quality. MBA Polymers is a company that has an impressive sourcing program for collecting high grade polymers that can be produced at a level that replaces virgin materials. The products they are being used for are not earth shattering; vacuum cleaners and desk top stationary items, but perhaps that is actually the point. When “high-end” recycled plastic is used for standard items, maybe that means the material is doing it’s job and doesn’t require a fancy design statement to make it legitimate.
Plastic Toys that Return to the Beach?
The other way of preventing the oceans being clogged with plastic are polymers that biodegrade in water. I discovered Metabolix plastics in Business Week yesterday, of all places, and the article even discusses the need to prevent build up in the pacific ocean. The polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) material is apparently not that new, but it is now available at commercial quantities for production. While the cost comparison is quite high, up to four times the price of equivalent non-bio plastics, I’m pleased to see that there are many applications around. My favourite example is a beach set that will slowly biodegrade in 2-3 years, more than enough time for the kiddies.
And for any of you out there worried about the use of precious corn, read this article about farmers stock piling their crops in enormous silos.
Agriculture Books from Agriculture Waste
It’s not quite as catchy as Kramer’s coffee table book that folds out into a coffee table, but it’s not bad!
I’ve followed this material development for a little while as I’m a little self conscious of the enormous quantities of paper I go through. Canopy, which is an excellent non-profit environmental organization, has been pushing for innovations in paper to reduce the horrifying quantities of paper being generated from forests. A very positive development is “Second Harvest” paper, which uses fibre from agricultural waste. They have an excellent image, below, describing the full story, but please visit the website for a list of resources in sourcing “eco-papers“.