Plastic Materials: From disposable to "re-make-able"
We find plastics everywhere in our daily routine, from the automobiles we drive to the packaging of our foods. Plastics are strong, lightweight, and eminently useful. Over the past few decades, though, the public has become aware of the environmental impacts plastics can have. These concerns have inspired researchers to develop new techniques for producing plastic and have placed a focus on ensuring plastic is properly handled after it has been used. Here is some information on a few recent breakthroughs!
One exciting area that is seeing a lot of activity in recent years is the development of biomaterials for use in plastics. Elma, WA based company NewWood Manufacturing has developed a new composite building panel made from 50% recycled plastic and 50% recycled wood. The new material is waterproof, insect resistant, durable, and easy to use. This product will allow businesses and consumers to continue reaping the benefits of plastics but with a smaller environmental impact.
Automotive manufacturers are also interested in biomaterials. TRW Automotive Holdings, based in Michigan, is using regenerative plastic to develop driver airbag modules which are better for the environment. According to the company, this will reduce emissions from the vehicle's interior.
Other companies may look to supplant plastic all together. One such company, Ecovative Design, has started growing mushrooms for use as packing material. They harvest the underground roots of mushrooms called mycelium. The company's founders have developed a way to take these cotton-like filaments and mold them into specific shapes. In terms of eco-friendliness, this new packing material breaks down quickly relative to expanded polystyrene and is even compostable.
Neville Brown, president of carbonLITE Industries, recently commented, "We are at the beginning of the end of the 'disposables' age and the start of the beginning of the 're-make-ables' age." As consumers grow more environmentally aware, they desire products that will not harm the environment once they've been used. This will continue to drive plastics makers to develop products and processes that reduce the carbon footprint their operations generate, be it through biomaterials or recycling programs.
Whatever new plastics materials may be developed in the future, ADMET testing machines will be at the ready to conduct the necessary tests to determine strength and durability.