Rob, waste regulations don't directly govern what gets manufactured, not yet anyway. The issues seem to be centered not so much on the regulation end but on the total infrastructure and interconnections among materials manufacturers, product manufacturers, waste management companies, sorters/recyclers (do they know how to handle different mixes? what recycling processes do they use?), materials manufacturers again (do they use their own recycled materials?) and industrial (if not consumer!) end-users.
Most of the effort to date has been on the front end, trying to make plastics out of bio-based, and now non-food bio-based, materials, and how to make ones that cost the same or less and have the same or better performance.
EOL issues are definitely a pressing matter and are certainly being considered: the new term is cradle-to-cradle. The thing is, making plastics recyclable--whether they're bio-based or not--involves a different set of technical challenges and also involve a lot of infrastructure issues, as I discovered doing the reporting for my upcoming May feature on making alternative fuels from recycled plastic.
I was guessing that might be the answer. We may be a ways away from the time that end-of-life environmental issues begin to become part of the equation. But it's bound to become important eventually, perhaps as an eventual add-on to waste management regulations.
Dave, the idea seemed to be that since we're trying to get rid of phthalates, why not go even further and do it with bio-based materials? I also found it interesting that the company spokesman said their customers are very interested in sustainable solutions with low carbon footprints, so these customers can meet their own sustainability goals.
BTW, I also mentioned Arkema's castor-oil based nylon 11 in my recent bioplastics article:
Rob, the presence of plant matter alone does not make a plastic biodegradable or compostable. That's an unfortunate, and common, misunderstanding, because it makes it seem like we're a lot closer than we are to such goals. The vast majority of bio-plastics right now have been designed to be drop-in replacements for petro-based ones, and are usually blended with them, as is this one. The result is not biodegradable or compostable unless it's designed to be so. (This one, also, is not a vinyl compound, but an elasticizer that mixes with vinyl to form that compound.) As Dave points out, the PVCs have not changed, only the additive that makes them flexible. The big deal here is getting rid of phthalates. EOL issues are an entirely different set of problems to solve.
In a related story, a tragic explosion last month which killed two people in a chemical plant in Germany may be opening the door to bio-based nylons. The explosion has tightened the supply of nylon-12, which is widely used in automotive fuel line applications.
Evonik, the company which had the explosion in Germany, has been suggesting its bio-based Vestamid Terra nylon grades as an alternative to the nylon-12 grades which have become temporarily unavailable. These new nylon grades are derived from castor oil.
Another supplier, Arkema, makes a nylon-11 which is also derived from castor oil, and may make an acceptable substitute for nylon-12. It was mentioned in a Design News article last year.
While the exposion in Germany was tragic, it will be interesting to see whether it leads to greater use of sustainable materials.
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Biomimicry has already found its way into the development of robots and new materials, with researchers studying animals and nature to come up with new innovations. Now thanks to researchers in Boston, biomimicry could even inform the future of electrical networks for next-generation displays.
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