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Engineering Materials

Ford & Heinz Test Tomato-Based Plastic

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Ann R. Thryft
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Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/13/2014 11:35:15 AM
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I like two things about this R&D: 1) it's looking to make plastic from waste byproducts, not growing a new crop of something that competes in some way with food crops, and 2) it's being done by big companies with the deep pockets to afford the time and attention to detail it takes to do things right.



78RPM
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
78RPM   6/13/2014 3:39:44 PM
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Thanks, Ann for this article. It's good to know that an increasing number of companies are considering the ethical implications of their design process and considering the environmental and social costs as well as benefits of their manufacturing.

At the recent Apple shareholder meeting, Tim Cook was firm with an investment group that demanded to know the effect on profiit from Apple's green energy and design process.  Cook replied:

"When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind," he said, "I don't consider the bloody ROI." He said the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader. ... He didn't stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock."  Reference: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2014/03/at-apple-shareholders-meeting-tim-cook-tells-off-climate-change-deniers/

Was there any information on what Heinz has previously done with the tomato waste?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/16/2014 12:28:54 PM
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78RPM, thanks for that snippet from the Apple shareholder meeting. That investor group's question shows a shortsighted POV, in my opinion. In earlier, pre-sustainabililty-conscious times, large corporations were engaged in various corporate giving programs, such as charities or local booster efforts. I don't recall investors querying the usefulness of those, since it was considered a big company's duty to give back to the community in various ways. Now they also do it with sustainability programs, many of which are not hot air but quite real, and usually involve their products.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/16/2014 12:29:56 PM
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Heinz didn't say what it usually does with the skins, but this 2004 article in California Agriculture, a peer-reviewed publication of the University of California
http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v058n01p59&fulltext=yes
says "About 10% to 30% of the raw tomato weight becomes waste, part of which is hauled fresh to nearby cattle and dairy farms and sold for a token fee" where it becomes feed, and a Wikipedia article says some of the waste goes to landfill.



Elizabeth M
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Elizabeth M   6/19/2014 6:29:18 AM
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I saw this story last week but didn't have time to comment (so am doing so now). I agree wholeheartedly with you, Ann. To take something already being wasted as a byproduct of an industry to make a new, eco-friendly material that can replace something that harms the environment is a great idea. The fact that two such large corporations are behind it is even better. Thanks for covering this type of thing and staying on top of the latest.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/19/2014 12:57:20 PM
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Thanks, Liz. If we learned anything from the ecology studies in the 70s it was that there is no "away" where you can throw something--every ecosystem on the planet is connected. As I see it, the problem lies in assuming that cost-effectiveness, or corporate responsibility, begins and ends at an individual company's door. Sustainability programs don't make that assumption.
Larger companies obviously have a larger effect on the environment in terms of more waste going to landfill if not diverted, and more emissions due to less eco-friendly manufacturing. Solving both problems by both diverting potentially harmful waste and making it into a more eco-friendly material to use in one's products should be encouraged, especially by bigger companies. Not only do they solve their own problems with such R&D, but the methods and materials that result can benefit others, either directly or by serving as a model.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Cabe Atwell   6/20/2014 1:17:33 AM
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This was a good article and if I remember correctly, there was another company who was (is?) making bioplastic from avocado pits that you wrote about a year ago. I'm wondering if this trend is gaining traction in other big name companies.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/20/2014 12:52:50 PM
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Good memory, Cabe. That's a Mexican company, Biofase, which I wrote about here http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=257242 They're still in business. I've also written about bioplastics from sugar cane trash here http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=237554 and several times about the use of corn stover, or corn harvesting byproducts, as well as shrimp shells, coconut shells, and various wood pulp sources--see Related posts links at the end of this Heinz story and the Biofase story.

R&D focused on using agricultural trash or byproducts to make plastic or fuel doesn't seem to be receiving as much attention as doing the same with municipal wastes. I suspect that's because it takes more tight cooperation between (probably large) individual companies or sources of the waste and the potential users of same, and it's just less visible than municipal waste dumps or landfills. Plus there are more stakeholders in cities, and possibly more garbage, too. One effort bucking this trend is DuPont's biofuel project to use corn waste from lots and lots of farmers: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=257126

Elizabeth M
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Elizabeth M   6/26/2014 8:59:39 AM
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You really say it so well, Ann, when you say there is no "away." It's so true. I can remember when people thought that way, that we just dispose of things and suddenly they disappear. But now we all know we're stuck with a lot of this stuff for a seemingly infinite amount of time, and we are seeing the effect of our lack of care especially in our oceans. Anything that can be done to mitigate non biodegradeable trash is a good idea. I really appreciate your coverage of this stuff. It's really cool to see what's being done.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
Ann R. Thryft   6/26/2014 12:44:00 PM
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Liz, thanks. I wish I could take credit for "there is no away," but it's a quote from a radical eco-feminist in a movie I saw many years ago. I forget the details but I clearly remember the moment, because that was when I finally got the picture that the planet is a limited system and unlimited growth simply can't work. She said we needed to realize that "there is no 'away'" where trash could be thrown, unless it's off-planet in space.



Battar
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Yesterday ?
Battar   6/16/2014 10:31:55 AM
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What have they been doing with the stuff untill now? Landfill?

If Ford arn't interested, maybe thay should talk to IKEA. The biggest drawback of recycled products is that the cost of recycling (including collection, seperation and energy costs) is often greater than "virgin" material. It is also more difficult (sometimes impossible) to maintain uniformity of color and other properties, which precludes their use in exterior parts.

Nancy Golden
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Re: Yesterday ?
Nancy Golden   6/16/2014 1:09:45 PM
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I had to laugh because I initially read the caption under the picture: Ford and Heinz are testing bioplastics as

Ford and Heinz are tasting bioplastics...I guess the power of suggestion and not enough coffee contributed to my interpretation...

While I agree that this is wonderful forward thinking R&D - I think Battar also brought up some important points which would explain why more isn't being done in these areas. Repurposing has always been a viable option that smart companies move towards, but unfortunately the lack of cost-effectiveness may out weigh the advantages at a corporate level. I am wondering if there are incentives that could help smaller companies do likewise?

AnandY
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Re: Forward-thinking R&D
AnandY   6/25/2014 3:30:22 AM
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It's a great idea by Ford and Heinz to decide to use tomato based plastics. This serves as a proper method of utilizing the resources available instead of having to buy such raw materials. Plastics in any form pose as a threat to the environment and the idea that ford recycles these plastic materials in order to come up with new component for cars is a better idea. It's a good way of being environmental friendly.

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