There's a rising flood of new materials that are said to solve a whole raft of environmental problems. The two biggest categories are materials that are recyclable and biodegradable. Most materials are theoretically recyclable. But is it cost-effective? Is there a proven recycling stream? If the answer to both of those questions is no, then it's very possible recycling is more of a marketing strategy than an environmental solution. One of the new claims is for a roof that is recyclable.
Several new plastics have been launched that are biodegradable. This runs against the normal requirement that products remain intact. Some environmental groups want packaging that breaks down when disposed of. The problem is materials don't break down in landfills, which are designed to be anaerobic so toxic waste does not leach into aquifers. And there are virtually no commercial composting facilities to handle biodegradable packaging.
But there are some real winners, like toys made with waste agricultural materials.
RECYCLED WOOD FILLER
Rolco Inc. of Kasota, MN is launching a line of board game pieces made of thermoplastic biocomposite compounds that contain up to 50 percent recycled wood by-product. “We are excited to be breaking new ground in our industry with game pieces that have a unique organic look and feel and are more environmentally friendly than the typical pieces on the market today,” says Vern Olson, Rolco's director of research and development. The composite is supplied by JER Envirotech International, which developed the material in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). The compound combines agricultural waste, recycled plastics and patented additives. The waste includes material such as wood flour or rice hulls and alloys them with recycled polymers using proprietary, patented additives. The resulting material is said to combine the durability of plastic with the appearance and workability of wood. Another company, Sprig Toys, is using the composites in toy vehicles.
A RECYCLABLE ROOF
A new roofing material from ArmorLite is said to solve the roofing industry's weight and environmental problems. “Nothing has been more un-environmentally friendly than the roofing industry, which for more than 100 years has been defined by unsafe, landfill-cluttering, energy-inefficient products like asphalt, metal, wood, clay and concrete,“ according to a press release from the California-based company. ArmorLite says it changed that forever with its material, which uses the least amount of the Earth's resources, is 100 percent recyclable and has 0 percent waste in manufacturing. The ArmorLite roofing material is made from a acrylic-styrene-acrylonitrile (ASA capstock and an ABS base layer that costs about $6 per sq ft compared to $3-$4 per sq ft for asphalt.
BIOPLASTICS ARE SURGING
BASF is boosting production for the biodegradable plastic Ecoflex in Ludwigshafen, Germany from the current 14,000 to 74,000 metric tons per year by 2010. Ecoflex is a petrochemicals-based plastic which has the properties of conventional polyethylene but is fully biodegradable in accordance with DIN EN 13432 requirements. The material is often used for film. BASF also plans to increase production capacity of the compounding facility in Ludwigshafen where the newly developed product Ecovio is manufactured. Ecovio, a derivative of Ecoflex, contains 45 percent by weight of the renewable raw material (corn) polylactic acid (PLA). The PLA content means Ecovio is not only biodegradable but also largely biobased. The global market for biodegradable and biobased plastics is growing at more than 20 percent per year, according to BASF.