Is there any way for the plastics industry and the green movement to truly coincide with one another? With current recycling practices in place and the introduction of viable bioplastics it should be an exciting new period for the most common material in our daily lives.
At some point everyone has to face the facts; plastics are far too much a part of our everyday existence to simply be discarded as not only an option, but an optimal construction material. This being said, there are ways for plastics to continue to offer the unsurpassed function and reliability that we have all come to expect in a world increasingly hostile toward non-biodegradable substances. When you consider that everything from this computer to precision medical instruments to your car utilize plastics we should all be on the same page. Mr. McGuire must have had a crystal ball when he referred to plastics as having a “great future” in that famous scene in The Graduate. Well okay, it was probably an acrylic ball.
So how does a non-biodegradable material earn points in a game where the deck seems to be stacked against? That seems to be the discussion at the forefront of the plastics industry today. Everything from innovative recycling techniques to bio-plastics are being researched and developed with a great deal of money changing hands to discover the next evolution in “space age” materials. Sorry for that last bit, The Graduate reference has me a bit nostalgic.
Ford is one company at the head of this discussion, utilizing soy based foam seat cushions and many plastic parts made from post-consumer materials in a multitude of their vehicles dating back to 2008. The soy based cushions are in contrast to petroleum based polyurethane cushions conventionally used in vehicle seats since the 1950s. The recycled plastic parts are typically injection molded parts such as under-body splash guards, cylinder head covers, and various other critical parts where strength is needed but weight is a factor. Ford has even began using wheat straw in place of glass fiber to strengthen some plastic parts. These practices are all part of Ford’s “eco” initiative that is at the forefront of their current marketing strategy and helps lay claim to diverting 25-30 million pounds of plastics from landfills. (RP News Wire, Ford Motor Company, 2010)
A new report titled; Global Bioplastic Packaging Materials Market 2015-2019, by; Technavio, a London based market research firm, projects the global bioplastic materials market will grow at a 23% compound annual rate between 2015 and 2019. (Laird, 2015) This is an immense figure speculating that one of the biggest industries in the world will be shifting a large portion of their focus from the materials that they have been producing comfortably for years to a more environmental stance. Looks as if Ford may have gotten in to the game early and set the mark for companies who utilize plastics in their end products.
On a less optimistic note, there is a story out of Washington State that is alleging Microgreen Polymers is now defunct. The innovators that utilize recycled PET to make more environmentally friendly drinking cups are reportedly looking for a buyer to acquire their technology after an investor forced foreclosure when the company came up short on a loan agreement. Microgreen, which had received 50 million in venture capital, is responsible for creating an insulated cup made from over 50% post-consumer plastic employing less material and eliminated the need for sleeves. “The technology works,” according to a company representative and hopefully will continue production under new leadership. (Cook, 2015)
Regardless of a few shortfalls in the plastic recycling markets, the overwhelming support for sustainable resources is going strong. This, coupled with; virgin material at lower prices, interest in the recycled and bio-sustainable fields, and an economy that is still growing since the recession of 08-09, there may not be a better time to be in the plastics industry. This confluence of trends and technological innovation will push this industry with a, “great future,” farther than ever before. One word, plastics.
Cook, J. (2015, April 11). 2015 Heavily Funded. Retrieved from Geek Wire: http://www.geekwire.com/2015/heavily-funded-maker-of-eco-friendly-plastic-cups-abruptly-closes/
Laird, K. (2015, April 03). Articles; Global bioplastics. Retrieved from Plastics News: http://www.plasticstoday.com/articles/Global-bioplastic-packaging-materials-market-forecast-surge-between-2015-2019-150403?cid=nl.plas09.20150413
RP News Wire, Ford Motor Company. (2010, June 23). Read: Ford renewable recycling materials. Retrieved from Reliable Plant: http://www.reliableplant.com/Read/24125/Ford-renewable-recyclable-materials